How does RFID and NFC work?

Both RFID and NFC are commonly used technologies to transmit small bits of data or other information. Examples of this include: contact information, secure payment authentication, user badge identification, etc. Although RFID and NFC are similar in practice, their implementations can vary.

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification and can be used at varying distances, depending on the frequency it is operating at. LF (Low Frequency) can operate at up to 10 centimeters, HF (High Frequency) can operate up to 30 centimeters, and finally UHF (Ultra High Frequency) can operate up to 100 meters. Another attribute of RFID is its ability to be deployed in either active or passive forms. Active means that the tag has its own power source, which can allow it to be detected among other RFID devices without close contact. Passive tags can only transmit information when they receive power from an external reader. This limitation makes it ideal for close range activity, such as an employee badge to unlock access to a company building.

NFC is a subset of RFID because it acts in a similar fashion to transfer information. NFC operates at the same frequency as HF RFID (13.56 MHz) and can act as a reader and a tag.  If you have an iPhone and ever used Apple Pay before, the contactless payment terminal acts as a reader for your phone to send stored credit card information to. If you’re an Android user, you might have seen the NFC icon in the status bar or commercials where people beam contact information and pictures to one another by tapping phones. In this case, one phone acts as a sender and one as a receiver, making close proximity data transfer possible.

As the world evolves, RFID and NFC will be the standard for information transfer without wires due to the convenience and simplicity. Along the way however, security needs to follow due to some implementations of RFID/NFC having vulnerabilities that can be catastrophic if exploited. It’s recommended that people buy wallets that have RFID blocking technology as hackers have been stealing credit card information from contactless cards without much difficulty. Security and precautions like this will need to be improved if we want a contactless future.

Here is an infographic that details the main differences between the two technologies and their uses:



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