Communications and Network, 2010, 2, 183-186
doi:10.4236/cn.2010.23026 Published Online August 2010 (
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CN
An Introduction to RFID Technology
Sanjay Ahuja, Pavan Potti
School of Computing, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, Florida
E-mail: {sahuja, pavan.potti}
Received March 7, 2010; revised July 2, 2010; accepted July 30, 2010
RFID technology emerged some time back and was not used that much because of lack of standardization
and high costs. Latest technologies have brought costs down and standards are being developed. Today RFID
is mostly used as a medium for numerous tasks including managing supply chains, tracking livestock,
preventing counterfeiting, controlling building access, and supporting automated checkout. The use of RFID
is limited by security concerns and delays in standardization. This paper describes RFID technology and its
applications in today’s world.
Keywords: RFID, RFID Applications
1. Introduction
According to Roy Want in [1], “Radio Frequency Identi-
fication Technology (RFID) has moved from obscurity
into main stream applications that help speed the handling
of manufactured goods and materials”. Barcode is still
the dominant player in supply chain industries and
departmental stores. However RFID is replacing barcode
technology and enjoys the major advantage of being
independent of line of sight problems and scanning the
objects from a distance. It offers the promise of reduced
labor levels, enhanced visibility, and improved inventory
management. Walmart has been one of the leaders in the
large scale adoption of RFID technology [1, 2]. RFID
tags have a memory capacity of 16 - 64 Kbytes which is
far more than the barcodes (1 - 100 bytes) [3] and can
store additional data such as manufacturer name and
product specifications.
The initial step of RFID was during World War II,
when the British used it to identify whether planes
belonged to “friend or foe”. Some technical problems
resulted in the gunning down of allied planes and since
then the use of RFID was limited to Defense and armed
forces industries due to the cost factors. New advance-
ments in science and technology have enabled usage in
commercial applications. Large institutions, such as the
US Department of Defense, have since implemented
RFID which is now spreading to other organizations and
industries [1]. Walmart is the second biggest user of
RFID and investing significant resources to develop its
Security problems still prevailing about RFID technology
is the fear that people can easily build RFID readers with
lower costs and can read data from an RFID chip without
knowledge and maybe even alter the data. For example,
someone could use the RFID reader on an inexpensive
product and upload the data to a chip that is on an expen-
sive product, thereby getting the latter for a lower price.
Another example is about retrieving data from unsecured
RFID enabled mobiles.
RFID advantages can be briefly explained as follows:
Reader can read and write data to RFID tags with
out direct contact and no line of sight problem.
Data from the multiple RFID tags are accessed by
the reader by radio waves.
No maintenance costs; RFID can work under different
environments and can be used effectively for over
10 years.
Fast read and write with the time taken for
read/write being a few milliseconds.
Modern RFID tags are made with very good memory
capacities ranging from 16 - 64 Kbytes which is
many times more than a typical barcode.
RFID tags can work with GPRS and has been used
for tracking.
RFID tags can also integrate with other technologies.
For example, it is used with wireless sensor net-
works for better connectivity.
The rest of the paper is organized as follows. RFID
principles are discussed in Section 2, Section 3 discusses
RFID applications, and Section 4 discusses RFID security
and technical solutions. Conclusions are listed in Section
2. RFID Principles
Different types of RFID tags exist, but are broadly
classified as active or passive. An active tag requires a
power source and is either connected to a powered de-
vice or to a battery and is often limited by the lifetime of
its source. Being dependent on a powered source puts
limitations on Active RFID tags. Cost, size, lifetime
make them impractical for regular use. On the other side,
Passive RFID is of interest because of the fact they are
independent of power source and maintenance.
Passive RFID also have advantages of long life and
being small enough to fit into a practical adhesive label.
Hence passive RFID tags are used for many applications
and this paper focuses more on passive RFID tags. A
passive RFID tag consists of mainly three parts: an an-
tenna, a semiconductor chip attached to the antenna, and
some encapsulation to protect the tag from the environ-
ment. As explained before, passive RFID tags don’t carry
any powered device and became active only upon expo-
sure to external energy. The RFID reader does the work
for activating and communicating with the tag. The passive
RFID tag antenna captures energy from the reader and is
responsible for communicating the data between tag and
reader. Roy Want states in [1], “Two fundamentally
different RFID design approaches exist for transferring
power from the reader to the tag: magnetic induction and
electromagnetic (EM wave capture). These two designs
take advantage of the EM properties associated with an
RF Antenna – the near field and the far field”. Both
technologies can transfer enough power to a remote tag,
usually the power levels will be in the range of 10μW
and 1 mW which is very minimal when compared to
regular Intel 4 processor power levels 50W. Near-field
is the most common approach used for implementing
passive RFIDs, and used for near range communications.
It has the physical limitations of range. The range of
communication of near field technology depends upon
the formula c/2Пef where c is the speed of light and f is
the frequency. It has the limitation that frequency of
operation increases as the distance decreases. One more
limitation is the energy available for induction as a func-
tion of distance. These physical limitations have led to
far field communication and far field communications
depend upon backscattering.
3. Applications of RFID
RFID applications are very broad and open in nature.
First we discuss daily use applications followed by a case
RFID is used as a medium for numerous tasks including
managing supply chains, tracking livestock, preventing
counterfeiting, controlling building access, supporting
automated checkout etc. RFID is also used as a means of
providing security to differentiate pirated copies of video
and audio discs by sticking RFID stickers to the discs.
Another widely popular example for RFID application
is RFID based toll gates. Electronic payment of toll
collecting using E-ZPass is a wide spread application.
E-ZPass tags are RFID transponders attached to the car
license plate and sends account information to the
equipment built into lane-based or open toll collection
lanes. The toll system will charge from a pre-entered
credit card or sends a check. A latest enhancement to this
technology is sending the bill details instantly to the user’s
mobile phone. And this technique is also used to track
stolen cars and other vehicles by police departments with
the use of GPRS and RFID.
Another popular application of RFID is in animal
tracking. Using RFID tags to track animals is not a new
application, but it has evolved from the usage of detecting
of missed cattle to the tracking of its movements and
behavior. The RFID tags are even used to control out-
breaks of animal diseases. Today technology has trans-
formed into human implantation of RFID tags. RFID
based wristbands and clothes embedded with RFID tags
are used to track prisoners.
The RFID tags are also used in the health care industry;
an RFID tag is used to store the patient’s medical history.
RFID tag is scanned each time to know the developments
and changes of the patient’s health condition and medi-
cation. RFID tags are often used for medical transactions.
RFID tags can also be used in airline industry to track the
baggage of the passengers [4]. Walmart is conducting
trials to explore a cart integrated with an RFID reader
and a wireless mobile computer authorized to make
payments as customers add items to the cart. The system
displays prices and then authorizes a batch payment
when the customer finishes shopping. If a customers
RFID mobile is also tuned with credit details, the pay-
ment is also done electronically.
Bluetooth is one potential option for providing
connectivity, but its usage is hindered by the time it
consumes for device discovery and service discovery
processes [5]. Salminen et al in [5] used RFID technology
to enhance Bluetooth connection establishment and com-
pared the results with and without using RFID and
showed that their approach dramatically increase the
performance. Even though Bluetooth is one of the leading
means of communicating between devices, the limiting
factor for it is the time it takes for device discovery
process. And when the user is looking for a specific ser-
vice offered by other Bluetooth enabled devices it takes
more time and is often unnecessary. So the work in [5]
authors suggests that the RFID system be used to as a
means to initiate a Bluetooth communication channel
between the user’s terminal and the services in the en-
vironment. Establishing connection between two Blue-
tooth devices is a two step process. The first step is to
search for the devices in its neighborhood called Device
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CN
Discovery, and the second step is to look for the available
services and their characteristics called Service Discovery.
So to decrease the time of communication, Salminen at
al in [5] the stored address and the attributes of the pro-
vided service in RFID tags so that the Bluetooth con-
necting device is quickly aware of the services offered by
other devices. A typical Bluetooth device takes about
10.24 seconds for connecting with other Bluetooth
enabled devices and some times it exceeds that time with
multiple Bluetooth devices in the environment. Com-
pared with Bluetooth, RFID takes only a few milliseconds
for communication which is much faster. Another
research area for RFID is in the field of Wireless Sensor
networks which are a mixture of both sensors and RFID
tags and are used for better connectivity and communica-
tion [6]. RFID is also used for Activity Recognition and
Visual Tracking [7].
4. RFID Security and Technical Solutions
4.1. RFID Security
The major and primary security concern of RFID is that
anyone can access the RFID data because there is no line
of sight problem and be able to gather data. In addition,
people are cloning RFID tags and using them just as the
way it was done for credit cards before. Preventing
effective cloning of RFID tags is still an open and
challenging problem. Criminals with RFID readers could
scan crowds for high-value banknotes. And terrorists
could scan digital passports to target specific nationalities.
Currently the research is on-going on RFID malware
[8]. RFID malware can be grouped into three distinct
categories: exploits, worms, and viruses. RFID exploits
are traditional hacking attacks that are identical to those
found on the Internet like buffer overflows, code inser-
tion, and SQL injection attacks. RFID worms and viruses
are simply RFID exploits that copy the original exploit
code to newly appearing RFID tags. The main difference
between the two is that RFID worms rely on network
connections whereas RFID viruses do not.
4.2. Technical Solutions
One of the problems of RFID tags is that customers often
forget to remove the tags from clothes after purchase and
this gives the chance of tracking customers. The better
solution is to use EPC kill command as a pro-privacy
technology after selling the products. Another alternative
to prevent leaking of data from RFID tags is the use of
cryptography as measure of privacy. This in turn results
in an additional problem of key management and the
level of encryption standards and its cost. A different
approach is using Tag passwords so that a tag could emit
important information only if receives the right password.
The dilemma is in the reader having to know the tag
identity. Another solution is using a timer based mecha-
nism that the causes the tag to change the password
periodically with a predefined mechanism. Another solu-
tion is the use of Blocker tags, i.e. using two tags and
blocker tag creates an RF environment that is hostile to
RFID readers. But a simple and effective solution to
prevent leakage of data from RFID tags is differentiating
the reader with their energy levels. This was based on
assumption that criminals will maintain more distance
than valid RFID readers and the power levels will be
For details on RFID security protocols, readers are
referred to [9,10].
5. Conclusions
RFID is still in a developing phase and more is in the
pipeline in terms of new applications. Among applica-
tions already developed, RFID tags are being used in
clothing for billing and security purposes. RFID tags are
embedded inside animals for tracking purposes. RFID
tags embedded in uniforms can be used to know the
number of hours an employee spends to complete a par-
ticular task. There are several associations that are pro-
testing against the use of RFID to track people fearing
the impact on people’s social life and privacy. Clearly
the extent to which use RFID is to be used is still an open
A lot of research on RFID tags is ongoing including
on embedding these with other devices, especially
mobile devices. RFID manufacturers and users are looking
for proper standardization and regulation of RFID. As
prices fall further and technological improvements con-
tinue to occur, RFID technology is expected to become
economically and technically more viable and impact our
daily lives as more applications are developed.
6. References
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Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CN
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CN
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