RFID: Which Frequency is the Right Choice?

Posted by on Oct 3, 2016 2:44:46 PM

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Radio frequency identification, or RFID, technology has allowed businesses from coast to coast and around the world to improve their manufacturing operations, manage their supply chains, improve their operations and track their products with increased efficiency. The widespread adoption of this modern technology has allowed business owners to scale their operations, lower their costs and boost their profits like never before. Maximizing the benefits of RFID, however, means making the right decisions. 

RFID technology utilizes a number of different frequencies, and it is important for business owners and management teams to choose the frequency that works best for their operations. Understanding the available frequencies and what they have to offer is the first step in making the right choice.

What are the Various RFID Frequencies?

There are three RFID frequencies to choose from: LF, HF and UHF. You may recognize the nomenclature from radio transmissions, and the two technologies do have a great deal in common. Just as with radio transmissions, it is important that RFID tags and their readers be tuned to the same frequency.

If your radio is not tuned to an available station, static is all you will hear. If the RFID tag and reader are not speaking the same language, the result will be much the same. That is why the choice of frequency is so critical, and why getting it right is central to the success of any RFID implementation.

When it comes to RFID, the difference is in the nature of the frequency. Low-frequency (LF) runs at 125 to 134 kHz; high-frequency (HF) at 13.56 MHz; and ultra-high-frequency (UHF) runs at 433 and 860-960 MHz. Since the radio waves that make RFID possible behave differently at different frequencies, making the right selection is critical.

 How Does Frequency Impact my Choice in RFID?

The choice of frequency depends in large part on the nature of the products being manufactured or tracked. Low-frequency RFID systems are often used for access control and animal tracking applications. This type of RFID system has a limited range, but that does not matter in these specific types of applications.

LF RFID tags are also perfect for use in steel buildings and manufacturing plants, since the radio waves are able to penetrate metallic surfaces more easily than do the other frequencies.

HF tags, on the other hand, are best for goods with a medium to high water content. The range of an HF RFID tag is also typically limited to inches, although some systems have a read range of up to 3 feet.

The relatively extended range and flexibility of HF RFID tags makes them perfect for such applications as tracking library books, managing tickets for transit systems and tracking the flow of patients in hospitals, medical clinics and other healthcare settings. 

Ultra-high-frequency RFID systems typically have a much larger read range, making them the best choice for applications in which extended range of use is the most important factor. A typical UHF RFID system can be read at distances as great as 50 feet, or even more depending on the installation.

RFID systems utilizing UHF are also able to transfer data more quickly than either LF or HF, allowing users to read far more tags per second. The read range is longer and the read rate is higher, but the signal is also more likely to be attenuated due to the shorter wavelength of UHF. 

UHF RFID tagging systems systems are typically found in large-scale warehouses and manufacturing plants, places where speed and efficiency are the most critical factors. These types of RFID systems are also used in electronic toll collection and parking access control, places where their longer range makes them ideal.

RFID technology can improve efficiencies, reduce costs and help businesses improve their operations, but only if the business owner chooses the right frequency for their purposes. Every type of RFID system, from LH to HF to UHF, has its benefits and drawbacks, and business owners need to weigh the pros and cons carefully. Having a basic understanding of RFID frequencies and how they work can make choosing the perfect frequency for your specific application that much easier.

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