How RFID is changing the world
RFID (radio frequency identification) uses radio waves to identify people or objects.
These radio waves send out information about their identity to nearby readers which then decide what to do with that information (granting access or not).
There are three types of tags:
- Active – this comes with a battery that powers the tag, transmitting information frequently without the need for a reader. These can store a lot of data and their signal can reach several km.
- Passive – these have no battery and utilise radio energy from the reader to power themselves. These can only store a small amount of data and their signal can only reach a few cm.
- Battery-assisted – a tag whose battery powers it when it gets close to a reader.
Frequency is the physical contact between the tag and the reader allowing communication. There are three categories of frequencies:
- Low Frequency (125-134 kHz) – very short range, restricted to just a few centimetres and limited memory storage. Data transmission speeds are low, and only a small number of tags can be read at once.
- High Frequency (13.56 MHz) – range of a few inches, but larger memory capacity and higher data transfer rates.
- Ultra-High Frequency (433 MHz & 856-960 MHz) – long range, up to 70 feet, with large memory capacity and high transfer rates.
Most RFID systems are found at a high frequency using passive tags.
History of RFID
RFID cards have been around for decades, evolving from its early roots of World War II until today's advanced security technology use.
In World War II the Germans, Japanese and Americans used radar to warn their troops of foreign plane intruders that were approaching kilometres away. To differentiate planes that belonged to the enemy and their own, the German’s rolled their planes as they returned to base camp which would change the radio signal that reflected. Showing that these planes were not intruders. RFID helped save lives in a time of need, differentiating friends from foe and preventing their planes from being shot down in the process.
Today, radar and RF communications are used to identify objects remotely. Companies began commercializing anti-theft systems using radio waves of whether an item had been paid for or not. Electronic article surveillance tags are used to track whether an item is paid for or not. If the item is not paid for, readers at the door signal an alarm to alert the owners of theft.
Charles Walton was the first person to receive a patent for a passive transponder. He was able to unlock a door without a key. Instead, he used an access/RFID card or tag.
What is an access card/tag?
This key card/tag is a big antenna (active RFID) with a chip inside of it. The chip is powered through the antenna so that there is no power source included. Once it is powered it will transmit a series of zeros and ones at a specific frequency. Just like a radio would. These are low-frequency transmitters of 125 kHz.
The reader from the door transmits on a specific frequency too. When the card answers, it sends it specific information to the controller. If the description matches the description on the card it will read the correct card number and give access. The reader will then unlock the door.
Deciding which user should have access & encoding?
Everything is programmed from access software on a computer. Each access control card comes with a key encoded machine, which will set up permission for your card. The system should allow you to grant permission for multiple doors, configure date and time for access and even the number of times a user can access the space.
All these details are built into a very complicated algorithm, which is written into your keycard’s magstripe. This magstripe contains thousands of tiny magnetic bars, each can be polarized either north or south. Polarizing these magnets creates a sequence that is encoded on your card. Finally, the unique ID will grant access to some and not to others based on what permission you have granted.
How has RFID changed the world?
RFID is used in many industries including:
- Access control.
- Time & attendance.
- Grant identification.
- Contactless smart cards.
- Anti-theft devices in cars (the car will not start without the passive RFID tag).
RFID is widely used in logistics. A group of scientists wanted to use RFID to track trucks and their cargo with the use of transponders. This was done by using readers at the gates of secure facilities. The gate antenna would recognise the transponder in the truck responding data with an ID (mainly the driver’s ID). This was commercialised in the mid-1980s where an automated toll payment was created which is widely used today (also known as the dreaded E-tol in SA).
Today RFID systems are found as high as 13.56 MHz (1K & 4K Mifare).
Track and trace & improved supply chain
This was especially important for business as a manufacturer could let their business partners know when the shipment left the dock at the warehouse, allowing the retailer to let the manufacturer know when the goods arrived. It allows companies like Takealot to track & trace their entire supply chain easily. Ensuring uninterrupted services and identifying missing goods instantly.
Some of the biggest companies in the world use RFID including Amazon, H&M and Zara. According to Statista, “In 2020, the global market for RFID tags is projected to be sized at around 24.5 billion U.S. dollars. Retail applications are expected to account for the largest share of the market.” (Kumar, A. 2019).
Amazon wanted to create the quickest checkout experience so that you do not have to wait in line and can simply “just walk out”. All you have to do is enter the Amazon store via the RFID Amazon app, pay for your item and walk out. Creating incredible customer experience and service.
Keeping track of your pets
By putting a RFID tag on your pets collar you will be able to keep track of them if it gets lost. Important ID information will be found on the RFID tag about the owner allowing those that have found the animal to bring it back to its owner.
What are the risks?
The main issue in today’s age is security. Data can easily be captured and copied, allowing misuse of important information. To capture data, the scanner has to be in the range of the RFID chip. Making passive chips the safest option as they have a small range. In order to prevent data from being captured, you can carry your keys or cards in a protective pouch (mainly consisting of tin to prevent data from being copied).
Privacy is another big issue. RFID can track your preferences, spending habits and physical movements without your knowledge or consent. This can then be used in many areas of unauthorised activities like target marketing and dynamic pricing. By storing all your data on a database, people can have access to all your personal information. And if this gets into the wrong hands it can be dangerous.
At Easi-card we promote DESfire as one of our most secure and safest options. DESfier provides the most secure, practically unbreakable 128 encryptions. The Desfire tag/card cannot be cloned, the reader cannot be hacked and the transaction cannot be skimmed. Making it the safest option for you.
Where is it going?
RFID is changing the world quickly in the most cost-effective way as prices decrease for this technology over the years.
RFID is increasingly innovative and progressive. RFID provides important information that can assist your organization all the way. They help save time and increase your profits since staff can work more efficiently.
RFID is a continually increasing innovation. It is expected to branch off into many more industries in the future.
At Easi-card we strive to make life easy for you and your customers. Find out more about the RFID cards we sell in the link below.
Written by Sherry Johnstone
IDESCO. 2019. How does DESfire work? IDESCO, [Online]. https://idesco.fi/how-does-desfire-work/. [03/11/2020].
Konica Minolta Business Solutions. 2020. RFID: how businesses use chip technology, [Online]. https://job-wizards.com/en/rfid-how-businesses-use-chip-technology/. [03/11/2020].
Kumar, A. 2019. 5 Big Brands that Use RFID Technology in Business Smartly: asset, [Online]. https://www.assetinfinity.com/blog/big-brands-uses-rfid-technology. [03/11/2020].
Pritchett, D. 2018. 5 ways that RFID is changing the world: Rockwest solutions. [Online]. https://www.rockwestsolutions.com/rfid-applications/5-ways-that-rfid-is-changing-the-world/. [04/11/2020].
Violino, B. 2020. The history of RFID Technology: Radio frequency identification has been around for decades. Learn how it evolved from its roots in World War II radar systems to today's hottest supply chain technology, [Online].https://www.rfidjournal.com/the-history-of-rfid-technology. [03/11/2020].