The Difference Between RFID, Bluetooth, and NFC

Wondering how radio-frequency identification (RFID), near field communication (NFC), and Bluetooth stack up against each other? Here’s what you need to know.

RFID and NFC are already part of our lives, yet few of us could put a name to the services we use them for every day. Our wireless world would be hard-pressed to function without them, and every month seems to make new headway in what they can offer. Bluetooth is more familiar to most people, but even its capabilities are expanding beyond the wireless headsets people commonly used it for.

To familiarize you with these three services, let’s begin with the tech most people are familiar with.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth technology is set to be embedded in close to 10 billion devices this year. Operating in the 2.4GHz frequency band across 79 channels, it is most common in cell phones but also designed to operate wireless PC and audio equipment and hands-free headsets, plus allow digital downloads between devices and a connection with the interface of vehicles.

As such, any two Bluetooth-compatible devices can send and receive data wirelessly and without any reliance on Wi-Fi. Bluetooth V2.1 had a range of up 100 meters, as did 4.0 (LE). The latest version, Bluetooth 5, has increased that range to a possible 400 meters.

Benefits and drawbacks of Bluetooth

Two benefits of short-range frequencies are low power consumption and the fact that they are (relatively) secure. Both Bluetooth’s Low Energy and Basic Rate/Enhanced Data Rate iterations offer multi-channel, spread spectrum (commonly called “channel hopping”) solutions. This ensures a private frequency is always available to users, with security robust enough to be classified as “government grade.”

Bluetooth is a versatile and developer-friendly platform. In addition, higher-powered transmitters can increase the effective range of Bluetooth more than ten times.

Standard Bluetooth use can be tricky, however, with some devices not consistently “pairing” (a two-way connection is always necessary) and the possibility of interference from electrical appliances or walls.

RFID

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. It consists of a chip and antenna embedded in an object that can be scanned, identified, and tracked via radio waves. Like Bluetooth, RFID is capable of both transmission and reception via antenna and microchip processor. Tags can be mass-produced cheaply, though the readers tend to be expensive.

Benefits and drawbacks of RFID

The data stored on RFID tags is item-specific and thus can be used to differentiate between inventory items of the same kind. For example, if a shipment of 100 identical toys is displayed in a store, staff can identify each one individually by the serial number on its RFID chip. This is also the method used when a family pet is chipped under the skin for later identification.

RFID operates under a global standard which improves efficiency and security. The tags are classified under 6 types (0 to 5). Types of chips range from passive to active and can allow the tags to communicate with each other, transfer power between themselves, and record factors like motion, temperature, and pressure.

Unfortunately, RFID’s dependence on Wi-Fi makes it easier to disrupt than Bluetooth. RFID tags also have trouble responding to simultaneous scanner queries and may suffer when many tags are present in a small area.

When it’s used for inventory purposes, tags remain active after leaving the supply chain, which renders them vulnerable to being scanned again. For example, vendors or even criminals could use still-active RFID chips to scan the contents of shopping bags and base a sales pitch or a theft on the information they gain.

NFC

NFC (Near Field Communication) is akin to both RFID and Bluetooth in that it is an evolution of the former and, similar to Bluetooth, it lets mutually-NFC-compatible devices communicate and exchange various forms of data. It has the shortest send and receive range of all three technologies at only a matter of inches. Again, like Bluetooth, this shorter transmission range means more effective security.

Pros and cons of NFC

NFC is being used by companies like Samsung, Android, and Apple to allow customers to pay for their purchases. It has an advantage over Bluetooth in that NFC devices don’t need to be specifically paired to interact; the disadvantage is that NFC is slower in transmission and reception.

NFC is operable across three modes: read/write, card emulation, and peer-to-peer. Read/write can be used in advertising for promotional offers, such as scanning an icon in a magazine, billboard, or poster to get more information on an offer. Card emulation allows NFC devices to act like credit cards, while peer-to-peer allows data sharing between two users.

This method of data transfer is set to take off in a major way. It can be embedded in everything from parking meters and wearable items to tattoos or sub-dermal implants. NFC also uses less energy than Bluetooth, with its passive components requiring no power supply.

It is NFC’s non-paired connectivity and its use in making payments that could make it the most commonly utilized of the three technologies. It is the perfect medium to pay for and receive things quickly – and this convenience is a high priority for consumers as well as merchants.

 

At Zero-In we pride ourselves on staying up to date with all the technological developments that impact our industry. From digital signs and interactive displays to customizing your content with full installation and support, we’re helping customers across nine sectors project their message. You can reach us at 888-260-7291.