Technology Guide: RFID Tags

You might never have seen one up-close before. But right now, there’s probably an RFID tag less than 5 feet from you – or even closer if you have a new credit card.

RFID tags are the tiny devices that help Radio Frequency Identification systems to interact with all kinds of things like passports, casino chips, cattle and hospitals patients. All of the basics are in our “What is RFID?” guide page.

They’re rather magical things – tiny enough to squeeze into a bank card, smart enough to hold lots of useful data, and able to receive electricity via radio waves. So many RFID tags don’t even have a battery. Let’s take a look at the different kinds of RFID tags, and what makes them so clever.

Type of RFID tag

Not all RFID tags are the same, because they’re not all designed to do the same job.

  • Passive RFID tags are the tiny ones found embedded in your credit cards and other IDs. They’re passive because they have no battery and don’t transmit anything on their own. Instead they’re powered by radio waves from an RFID reader. They only work at very short ranges, which is why they’re safe to use for payments.
  • Active RFID tags have a battery and transmit their data periodically up to 300 feet. That makes them useful for tracking the locations of wildlife (which can be implanted with an RFID tag), or personnel such as doctors in a hospital. The downside is that active RFID tag batteries have a limited lifespan.
  • Battery-assisted passive RFID tags are just like ordinary passive tags, but can work at longer ranges. Their batteries are only activated by nearby RFID readers, so they cab last for up to five years.

Privacy Concerns for RFID tags

RFID tags are getting tinier and less-expensive all the time. Right now, a typical RFID tag measures less than 1 millimeter and costs less than 1¢. It’s this miniaturization and low cost that’s driving new applications for RFID all the time.

Incredible new stories about new RFID applications pop up online all the time. For example:

Privacy concerning the way we shop?

Many supermarkets are dreaming of a future in which every product on the grocery store shelves has a unique RFID tag.

A system like this could allow you to simply go to the grocery store, pick up the things you want and then walk right out – with the supermarket automatically billing you for the food you took.

RFID still needs to become cheaper before we see this level of use. But it’s getting there – and RFID tags are going be playing an even bigger role in everyday life in future.

Buy an RFID Blocking Wallet today!