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RFID Glossary

RFID Glossary

RFID Terminology Explained: It can be easy to get disoriented in the technical jargon and acronyms that surround RFID technology. With that in mind, we have created this quick-reference resource to help you understand and discuss enterprise-level RFID solutions. If you have any questions about a term, whether it is listed here or not, please don’t hesitate to contact Strategic Systems directly.

Active tag
An RFID transponder with its own power source and, therefore, the ability to broadcast its own signal.

Antenna
Antennas serve as a link between a reader and a tag, making it possible for them to send and receive data. Antennas located on both readers and tags work together to create a magnetic field through which data is transmitted. Antennas are also used to help amplify weak signals.

API
Application Programming Interface. An API is a set of programming guidelines that describes how a piece of software should be written in order to interact with another program or operating system. RFID middleware/software should include APIs that enable data collected by the RFID hardware and software to be made available to other programs, such as a company’s ERP, accounting, or other enterprise-wide system.

Asset tracking
RFID solutions are commonly used to track assets as they are used in a production process or other operational application, enabling companies to quickly and efficiently gather information on the locations of their assets. This information can be used to record and analyze asset movements, identify the last known location of specific assets, and determine how to make processes more efficient.

Automatic identification
The process or method by which technology can be used to collect data and enter it into a computer, as an alternative to manual data entry. These methods include RFID, voice recognition, biometrics and barcodes.

Battery-assisted tag
Also known as “semi-active RFID tags,” these tags operate like passive tags but have batteries, like active tags. Unlike active tags, however, they do not use their power sources to constantly broadcast a signal; instead, once excited by the presence of a reader signal in their proximity, they use the boost they get from their batteries to give them a longer/stronger range for bouncing back their ID information from a greater distance or as a way to overcome more environmental interference than traditional passive tags are capable of.

Beacon
A piece of hardware that emits a Bluetooth low-energy wireless signal that is able to be read by an application that is installed on devices that come within range of that signal. Although differentiated from RFID, beacons simply represent another way of using wireless signals to convey information about an item’s unique identification and/or location.

EPC
Electronic product code. An EPC number is a universal, unique identification number that is encoded within an RFID tag and contains data about the specific physical item the tag is associated with. EPC protocol specifies how data represented by EPC numbers are communicated and stored.

EPC generation 2
An international air-interface protocol for the second generation of electronic product code (EPC) technologies, governed by EPCglobal.

EPC reader
An RFID reader that is capable of reading tags that contain EPC codes that are compliant with EPC global standards.

Excite
To wake up or activate. The action that occurs when a reader transmits radio frequency energy and causes passive tags to activate and transmit information back to the reader.

Fixed reader
A reader that is able to be securely fastened to or installed at a specific location and collect data from passing RFID tags. Fixed readers are useful for scenarios in which a particular chokepoint indicates that a meaningful business activity is taking place, i.e., as finished goods move through a warehouse door to the loading dock for transport, as tools are checked out by employees at the start of a workday, etc. One example of a fixed reader is the Zebra FX7500.

Frequency
The number of times an electromagnetic wave cycle is completed in one second. Its standard unit of measurement is the hertz, but when used to describe radio frequency, it is more often measured in kilohertz (one thousand cycles), megahertz (one million cycles), and gigahertz (200 billion cycles). RFID solutions use ultra-high, high, and low-frequency tags.

High-frequency
A range of frequencies between 3 MHz and 30 MHz. High frequency (HF) tags have a longer read range (about three feet) and transmit data faster than low frequency tags.

Interrogation zone
Also known as a “read field” or “reader field,” this is the area in which an interrogator’s (also known as a reader) signal is strong enough to excite a passive tag and receive its information.

Item-level
A tagging practice (see also case-level and pallet-level) whereby tags are placed on individual items, rather than on groups of packaged items.

Low-frequency
A range of frequencies between 30 kHz to 300 kHz. Low-frequency (LF) tags have a shorter read range (less than three feet) and transmit data more slowly than high-frequency tags, but are less susceptible to interference than ultra-high-frequency tags.

Middleware
RFID middleware collects data from all of your hardware, filters out duplicate or junk data, and translate the data into a format that other business software can understand. It gives you single-pane-of-glass access to your data, manage your readers and antennas remotely, and more. StrategicRFID™ is an example of an RFID middleware platform.

Mobile reader
A reader (also known as an interrogator) that can receive information from RFID tags or EPCs, and doesn’t have to remain in a fixed position; instead, it is a portable device that can be carried or transported as needed.

Near-field communication
This term generally is used for low and high-frequency systems to describe communication between a tag and reader that happens within a wavelength of the reader. RFID solutions that require near-field communication (NFC) are associated with shorter read-ranges, including low- and high-frequency passive tags and readers. Learn more about NFC here.

Passive tag
An RFID tag that sends and receives information by drawing power from a reader, instead of having its own power source. Passive tags have a shorter read-reach than active tags, and are more prone to interference, but they are less expensive.

Portal
An RFID reader that is designed to collect information from multiple tags as tagged items pass through a fixed gateway.

Read
The process by which data is collected from an RFID chip. Radio waves sent to the transponder are converted and sent back as data.

Read accuracy
The number of tags that are read successfully, measured in percent.

Read range
How far a reader can be from a tag and still be able to communicate. There are many factors that influence read range, including frequency, antenna design, and whether the tag is active or passive. Active tags can have a read range of up to 300 feet, while passive tags need to be much closer to the reader–sometimes even touching.

Read rate
The number of tags that can be read within a specific amount of time, or the number of times a single tag can be read within a period of time.

Read-only
A kind of RFID tag that is programmed with information during manufacturing. Its data cannot be modified nor can new information be added.

Read-write
A kind of RFID tag that contains a microchip with data that can be modified when the tag is within the read-range of the reader.

Real-time locating system
A system that uses active RFID tags to locate and track the current position of assets in an area or building, such as a hospital, factory or warehouse. Learn more about RTLS here.

RFID Printer
A special printer that encodes data onto a chip and can print it onto a label, tag or other vehicle for use as an RFID transponder. An example is the Zebra ZD500.

Semi-passive tag
Also known as a battery-assisted tag, a passive tag uses a battery to power the electronic function of the microchip, but not to send or receive a signal from the reader.

Sensor
A device that produces an electronic signal and allows an RFID tag to detect a stimulus.

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