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The difference between NFC and RFID

RFID is a very mature technology that has been around for many years.  It stands for Radio Frequency Identification and is used for one way wireless communication: capturing data stored in a tag. NFC is based on RFID technology and is still maturing.  There are a number of differences between NFC and RFID but first let’s clarify some things about RFID.  There are a multitude of different frequency bands associated with RFID but the most common are as follows based on reading passive tags:

BandFrequencyScan distance
LF, low frequency120-150 KHzUp to 10cm
HF, high frequency13.56 MHzup to 1m
UHF, ultra-high frequency902~928MHz (USA standard) 1-12m
865~868MHz (European standard)

NFC stands for Near Field Communication and is based on High-Frequency RFID.  It therefore shares many characteristics but also has some key differences which are illustrated in the table below.

HF RFIDNFC
Operating Frequency13.56 MHz13.56 MHz
CommunicationOne wayTwo way
StandardsISO 14443, 15693, 18000ISO 14443
Scan DistanceUp to 1 mUp to 10 cm
Scan Tags SimultaneouslyYesNo

As you can see NFC supports fewer standards than HF RFID and is limited in its reading distance which is typically 5cm or less.  Another critical but purposeful limitation is that is can only read 1 tag at a time. The key difference and major advantage of NFC however is the support for 2 way communication and this offers 2 modes, tag emulation and P2P (peer-to-peer).

Tag emulation means that an NFC device can emulate a tag as well as read it.  The typical application for this is to use a smartphone in place of a contactless payment card.

P2P mode means that NFC devices can share information without the need for a network infrastructure. Typically the process would be to pair the devices (both devices perform a tag read and tag emulation) and then share information. For example connecting to a WiFi hotspot by tapping it, or pairing to a printer by tapping it and then being able to print, or pairing two similar devices to play a game or share information.

The difference between NFC and RFID uhf-countries-1

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