Both RFID and NFC are wireless technologies which rely on radio frequency (RF) communication for data exchange between devices. RF technology uses electromagnetic (EM) fields to enable wireless communication. NFC is a subset of RFID technology.

Both NFC and RFID technologies are used for low data rate short range wireless communications. There are different types of signalling modes such as NFC-A, NFC-B and NFC-F under NFC. NFC-A resembles to RFID type-A and NFC-B resembles to RFID type-B. NFC operates at the same RFID readers and tags operating in HF band.

What is RFID ?

RFID, which stands for Radio-Frequency Identification, is a technology that uses radio waves to wirelessly transmit data between a reader and an RFID tag. The system typically consists of two main components: the RFID reader (or interrogator) and the RFID tag (or transponder).

Following are the features of RFID.
System Components : Tag, Reader and Antenna
Maximum Operating Range: 3 meter
Operating Frequency: <135KHz, 13.56MHz,2.45GHz, 5.8GHz, 860 to 960 MHz, 433 MHz
Directional communication: One way
Bit rate: depends on FM0 or Miller encoding techniques. It is 40 Kbps to 640 Kbps for FM0, 20-320Kbps(For Miller , M=2) , 10-160Kbps(For Miller, M=4), 5-80Kbps (For Miller, M=8)
Applications: Asset and tool tracking, attendee tracking, inventory management, race timing, access control.

Let us understand how RFID works.
➨RFID tags are small electronic devices that consist of a microchip and an antenna. The microchip stores data, and the antenna enables communication with the RFID reader through radio waves.
➨RFID readers are devices that use radio-frequency signals to communicate with RFID tags. Readers can be fixed (stationary) or handheld and are equipped with antennas to send and receive data. ➨Communication: When an RFID tag comes into the proximity of an RFID reader, the reader sends out radio-frequency signals. The RFID tag, equipped with its own antenna, receives these signals and uses the energy from the signals to power the microchip on the tag.
➨ Data Exchange: The RFID reader and tag engage in a two-way communication process. The reader sends a query or command, and the RFID tag responds by transmitting its stored data. The data on the tag may include unique identification numbers, product information, or other relevant details.
➨Passive and Active RFID: RFID systems can be categorized into passive and active types.
• Passive RFID: Passive tags do not have their own power source. They rely on the energy transmitted by the RFID reader to power the microchip and respond to queries. Passive RFID tags are typically used for shorter ranges.
• Active RFID: Active tags have their own power source (such as a battery) and can actively transmit data to the reader. This allows active RFID tags to operate at longer ranges.

RFID Applications

RFID technology is employed in various applications across different industries. Common uses include following.
• Asset tracking: Managing and tracking inventory or equipment.
• Access control: Granting or restricting access to specific areas or buildings.
• Supply chain management: Monitoring the movement of goods in logistics.
• Identification and authentication: Providing a unique identifier for objects or individuals.
• Contactless payment systems: RFID-enabled cards for convenient transactions.

Refer RFID tutorial covering RFID basics including RFID terminologies, what is RFID, RFID frequencies, RFID network, factors/requirements in determining RFID network, RFID cost, RFID applications, RFID vendors/manufacturers, RFID standards and more.

What is NFC ?

NFC, which stands for Near Field Communication, is a short-range wireless communication technology that enables data exchange between devices that are in close proximity to each other. NFC operates at radio frequencies (13.56 MHz) and is designed for communication over short distances, typically within a range of up to 10 centimeters (approximately 4 inches).

Following are the features of NFC.
System Components: Reader and Tag referred as initiator and target
Maximum Operating Range: 10 cm
Operating Frequency: 13.56 MHz
Directional communication: Two way
Bit rate: 106, 212, 424 Kbps
Applications: Information sharing, contactless payment, smart marketing posters, NFC enabled smart phones

Let us understand key features and working of NFC.
➨ NFC is intended for short-range communication, making it suitable for scenarios where devices need to be close to each other for data exchange.
➨NFC supports two main modes of communication viz. peer to peer and reader/writer.
• Peer-to-Peer Mode: This mode allows two NFC-enabled devices to communicate with each other. It is commonly used for tasks like file transfer, contact sharing, and pairing of devices (e.g., Bluetooth pairing).
• Reader/Writer Mode: In this mode, an NFC-enabled device (reader) reads information from or writes data to an NFC tag. This is commonly used in applications like contactless payments, smart posters, and access control systems.
➨Compatibility: NFC is integrated into many modern smartphones, tablets, and other consumer electronics. This widespread integration facilitates seamless communication between devices, promoting interoperability.
➨NFC incorporates security features to protect data during communication. These features include data encryption and mutual authentication, enhancing the security of transactions.
➨Tag Types: NFC supports different types of tags, including Type 1 through Type 5. Each type has specific characteristics and capabilities, allowing for various use cases such as information storage, access control, and more.

NFC Applications

NFC technology is employed in a variety of applications as follows.
• Contactless Payments: NFC is widely used for mobile payment systems, allowing users to make transactions by tapping their NFC-enabled devices (e.g., smartphones) on payment terminals.
• Access Control: NFC is used for secure access to buildings, rooms, or events through NFC-enabled cards or devices.
• Transportation: NFC technology is utilized in contactless ticketing systems for public transportation.
• Smart Posters: NFC tags embedded in posters or advertisements can trigger actions on a user's device when tapped.

Refer NFC basics article which covers NFC (Near Field Communication) basics including NFC operation modes, NFC frequency, NFC data rates, NFC tag types, NFC applications and NFC signalling types and more.

Difference between RFID and NFC

Following table compares both the technologies and mentions difference between RFID and NFC.

Parameters RFID NFC
Full form Radio Frequency Identification Near Field Communication
Range Varies widely, typically up to several meters Typically up to 10 centimeters
Communication Mode Unidirectional (Reader to Tag) Bidirectional (Peer to Peer communication)
Operating frequency Low Frequency (LF), High Frequency (HF), Ultra High Frequency (UHF) 13.56 MHz (HF)
Communication Speed Depends on RFID standard and frequency 106 kbps, 212 kbps or 424 kbps, depending on the mode
Read/Write capability Read only, Read/Write or Write-once-Read Many depending on the RFID type Read/Write capability
Device integration Typically requires specialized RFID reader devices Integrated into smartphones and other consumer electronics
Security Basic security features, which depends on the RFID standard Built-in security features, including data encryption and mutual authentication
Data Storage Capacity Limited storage capacity on the tag Higher data storage capacity on the device (e.g., smartphone)
Implementation Cost Can be lower for simpler RFID systems May be higher due to integration into consumer electronics like smartphones
Standardization Various RFID standards (e.g., ISO/IEC 14443, EPC Gen2) NFC Forum standards (NDEF - NFC Data Exchange Format) for interoperability
Applications Asset tracking, inventory management, access control, supply chain management Contactless payments, ticketing, access control, data transfer between devices
Use cases Industrial and logistics applications, inventory tracking Contactless payments, mobile ticketing, smart cards, peer-to-peer data transfer

Conclusion : In summary, RFID and NFC share fundamental similarities as wireless communication technologies, but each has found distinct applications and evolved to meet specific needs. RFID, with its broader range of frequencies and longer operational distances, has been integral to industrial and logistics applications. On the other hand, NFC, as a subset of RFID, has excelled in short-range, peer-to-peer communication, seamlessly integrated into consumer electronics for applications like contactless payments and access control.

As technology continues to advance, the convergence and coexistence of RFID and NFC showcase the versatility and adaptability of wireless communication solutions across diverse industries and everyday consumer experiences.

What is Difference between

IoT Wireless Technologies

WLAN    THREAD    EnOcean    LoRa    SIGFOX    WHDI    Zigbee   6LoWPAN   Zigbee RF4CE   Z-Wave   NFC   RFID   Lonworks   CEBus   UPB  

RF and Wireless Terminologies