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 is a multitude of different frequency bands associated with RFID but the most common are as follows based on reading passive tags:

Band Frequency Scan distance
LF, low frequency 120-150 kHz Up to 10cm
HF, high frequency 13.56 MHz up to 1m
UHF, ultra-high frequency 902~928MHz (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.

Operating Frequency 13.56 MHz 13.56 MHz
Communication One way Two way
Standards ISO 14443, 15693, 18000 ISO 14443
Scan Distance Up to 1 m Up to 10 cm
Scan Tags Simultaneously Yes No

The difference between NFC and RFID

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 it 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, 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.