RFID in Retail

Think of a shopping center where you walk in with no cash, a number of interactive mobile machines are there to welcome you. One of those identifies you and chances are that it will know for what you are there. They are your friends who are salesman in real terms. These machines can advice you on what to buy and what not to buy, buying which product will save you dollars. They know what designs and fashion you wear, what food you eat. Leave it here they even know of the things you bought last time and how much of it is left in your refrigerator.  This smart salesman can tell you how much to buy so that it will last till the next time you visit the store. They can tell you the same jeans you were looking for last time are in fresh arrivals and literally take you there. And when you are done with your shopping you need not to wait in long queues to get your purchases billed. No bar-code scanning, no card swipes you walk out of store and the bill is deducted from your credit card account or whichever account you choose to………………………………….. Yes this is future of Retailing which you will be seeing in just a few years to come. Get yourself ready to have hands on this revolutionary technology.

All these will be new application of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). Radio Frequency Identification technologies provide a unique way for wireless communication between objects and readers. RFID system comprises of RFID tag, RFID transceiver, servers, and middleware and application software. The RFID tag is a low functionality microchip with an antenna connected to the item to be tracked, or identified, and stores the unique identification number of the item. These chips transform the electromagnetic energy of radio-frequency signals/queries from a RFID reader/ transceiver to respond by sending back information they enclose. The readers communicate with the tags for reading/writing the information stored on them as well as update the servers which may be standalone or networked. Readers may be fixed or mobile. Finally, a computer hosting a specific RFID application pilots the reader and processes the data it sends.

RFID Tags can be Active or Passive. Active RFID tags are powered by an internal battery which is used to power ICs and generate the outgoing signal. They are typically read/write type and the size of memory used varies according to application requirements. The battery supplied power of an active tag gives it a longer read range, but such tags have large size, higher cost, and a limited operational life.

 Passive RFID tags operate without an external power source. They use the operating power generated from the reader. Electrical current induced in the antenna by the incoming radio frequency signal provides enough power for the Complementary Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor (CMOS) integrated circuit in the tag to power up and transmit a response. The absence of battery makes them lighter than active tags, less expensive, and offers a virtually unlimited operational lifetime. But they have shorter read range than active tags and require a higher-powered reader. Passive tags are typically Read-only and are programmed with a unique set of data (usually 32 to 128 bits) that cannot be modified.

The data transmitted by the tag may provide identification or location information, or specifics about the product tagged, such as price, color, date of purchase, etc. The interrogator, an antenna packaged with a transceiver and decoder, emits a signal activating the RFID tag so it can read and write data to it. When an RFID tag passes through the electromagnetic zone, it detects the reader’s activation signal. The reader decodes the data encoded in the tag’s integrated circuit (silicon chip) and the data is passed to the host computer. RFID system can also be distinguished by frequency range.

RFID types Range RFID Uses Reading Range
LF Low Frequency 30kHz to 300 kHz 125 kHz 0.3 meter
HF High Frequency 3MHz to 30 MHz 13.56 MHz 1 meter
VHF Very High Frequency 30MHz to 300MHz Not used for RFID ———-
UHF Ultra High Frequency 300MHz to 2.45GHz 868MHz, 915MHz 1-3 meter
MF Microwave Frequency 2.45 GHz to 300 GHz ——- 2+ meter

Your Life @Ease with RFID

  • v Auto-Identification
  • v Intelligent Shopping tips
  • v Real time item tracking
  • v Mall navigation guidance
  • v Smart Shelves
  • v Auto-billing
  • v Card less checkout

Limitations of RFID Tags
1. There exist no globally accepted standard, regarding usage and manufacture of RFID tags and related products.
2. Frequencies incompatibility between various nations still exists.
3. RFID tags can be illicitly tracked which poses risk of personal location privacy.
4. Privacy Concerns:
a. if a customer is not aware about the presence of tags on his purchase, as tags can be read at a distance it is possible to gather sensitive data without his consent.
b. If the purchase is made by credit card (or by using loyalty card), it is possible to detect the identity of customer.
5. The Smart tag technology is yet to be perfected for accurate performance in real life situations.
6. Limitations of reading through metal & liquid greatly reduce the accuracy.
7. Presence of other radio frequencies can disrupt proper transmission.
8. Increase in expenses:
a. the higher cost of RFID tags is deterring the use of the technology on mass scale. On t he contrary, large scale use/demand is likely to reduce the price to a viable limit.
b. The whole system for use of RFID tracking system needs to be established right from retailer down to manufacturer which requires heavy capital investment from all parties involved. This factor is likely to act as inhibition for early acceptance of technology.
9. Apart from technological, the limitation of using RFID boils down to synchronizing business relationships. To exploit the benefits fully, all partners must be equipped with a common data format.
10. Each of RFID tags must be programmed, applied and verified individually, and data synchronization is usually required, but such a case is not required in BAR CODES.
11. The information the tag sends to the reader is only as good as the information that was put on the tag. This opens the door to human error in data entry. Information can also be affected by poor system design, unskillful or incompetent integration, poor software design, unfriendly materials such as water and metal, human error, double reads, no reads and other factors.

Benefits of RFID
RFID has many benefits compared to competing technologies like barcode. A few of them are listed below:
1. Radio Frequency tags can be scanned simultaneously all at one instant, whereas bar codes must be separated and scanned individually by a reader.
2. RFID is more durable compared to bar codes.
3. RFID tags are read more accurately, 99.9% read rate compared to 80% read rate for bar codes, because they eliminate manual data entry and can be read through most all materials.
4. Typical RFID tags have more data storage capacity compared to bar codes.
5. RFID technologies are more reliable as they have no moving parts and require no maintenance.
6. It offers higher security as each tag is unique and extremely difficult to duplicate.
7. RFID doesn’t require a line-of-sight and has greater reading range, so it stands way ahead of bar codes in terms of security and theft prevention.
8. Continuous communication of tags enables location and details to be tracked in real time.


About Barun Jha

Infrastructure Professional, Introvert,Writer, Wonderer, Wanderer
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