rfid vs.nfc

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Knowing the difference between the two

When it comes to technology, modern business owners like you need to be savvy about technological implementation. There’s a lot of emerging technology that can help streamline your business, and staying on top of these technologies can put your business one step ahead of the competition. Two important terms when it comes to business technology are RFID and NFC. In this article, we’ll dive into both – what they are, how they’re used, and the differences between the two. To start, let’s define RFID.

What’s RFID?

RFID stands for radio frequency identification. It’s a technology that uses radio waves and electromagnetic fields to communicate information. In an RFID transmission, data is passed from an RFID tag to a reader, which then can use the information to perform a variety of processes. Most notably, RFID tags are useful to various manufacturers as they can help the inventory tracking process. Instead of relying on barcodes, which have to be manually scanned and require a line of sight to read, an RFID tag can work over long read ranges – over 300 feet. That means a more streamlined inventory process compared to traditional barcodes.

So how are RFID tags read? Well, there are two types of RFID tags – active and passive. Active RFID tags contain a power source that can broadcast the RFID information over a large distance. In contrast, with passive RFID tags, the RFID reader provides the power to read the RFID tag. This RFID reader could be a handheld device or a larger device that can be mounted in a warehouse or stockroom like a wireless router. There are three different RFID frequency ranges: Low frequency (LF), high frequency (HF) and ultra high frequency (UHF).

In addition to inventory applications, RFID is useful as an anti-theft device for retailers. They’d simply attach an RFID tag to merchandise and if it’s not removed at checkout by the cashier, the alarm sounds. RFID tags can also be useful to track luggage on airlines, access control, asset tracking, record race times or even identify pets if they get lost. Now that you have a general understanding of RFID, let’s take a look at near field communication.

What’s NFC?

NFC stands for near-field communication, and it’s a technology that enables data to pass from one device to another, granted the devices are in close proximity to one another. Technically, NFC falls under a type of RFID, because NFC systems operate on the same frequency as HF RFID (13.56 MHz) systems. As you’d expect, this means they have very short distance limitations.

NFC is a popular technology used in the mobile payment space. It only works for in-person transactions because of the proximity needed for it to be successful. As the name suggests, the mobile devices don’t have to touch, making it a contactless method of data transfer.

NFC can connect laptops, tablets, smartphones and other devices to each other and to payment terminals. This technology is what enables contactless card payments – by either EMV-enabled cards or mobile phones. When a consumer uses Google Pay™ on their Android device or Apple Pay™ on their Apple device, they’re using NFC for mobile payments.

While sometimes NFC technology gets compared to Bluetooth®, it’s not the same. There are a few important differences: NFC doesn’t require as much power, works over shorter distances and doesn’t require any form of device discovery. There are a few different NFC modes – Peer-to-peer (P2P), Reader/writer and card emulation. These give NFC more functionality than regular RFID technology. Now that you understand NFC, let’s look at the differences between the two.

What are the differences between RFID and NFC?

When it comes to applications, there are three main ways that RFID and NFC differ – distance, frequency and direction. Let’s take a closer look at each.


For longer distances, RFID technology can handle up to 300 feet. RFID tags can also be read without direct line of sight to the reader, which gives it an advantage in inventory management and asset management applications. In contrast, because of the short-range frequency of NFC transactions, a direct line of sight and proximity to the reader is necessary to complete a transaction. That’s why it’s ideal for contactless payments – because in order to steal your credit card information, a fraudster would need to practically be on top of you.


As we’ve discussed, there are a few different frequency RFIDs . Because these frequencies have different purposes, RFID device communications can be tailored to a particular use based on the frequency utilized. For longer communication needs, UHF should be used. However, NFC transactions are a subset of RFID and only operate on the High Frequency range.

Transmission direction

When it comes to the direction of transmission, there’s a big difference between RFID and NFC. For RFID transactions, there’s only a one-way flow of information – from the RFID tag to the RFID reader. However, NFC is capable of both one-way and two-way transactions. Because it permits information to flow both ways, NFC can support data sharing between devices or be useful for one-way card payments. One way communication requires an active NFC and a passive NFC device, whereas two-way communication involves two active devices.

As you can see, there are some complex differences between RFID and NFC tags. While both allow data to be transmitted, the method in which that data transmission happens can be very different. If you’re looking for help with specific tracking or inventory management, consider implementing RFID tags at your company. In contrast, if you’re looking to implement contactless payments, NFC is the technology you’ll need. As part of that process, it’s important to work with your payment services provider to ensure you have the right equipment to start with NFC payments.

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Heartland is the point of sale, payments and payroll solution of choice for entrepreneurs that need human-centered technology to sell more, keep customers coming back and spend less time in the back office. Nearly 1,000,000 businesses trust us to guide them through market changes and technology challenges, so they can stay competitive and focus on building remarkable businesses instead of managing the daily grind. Learn more at heartland.us.