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Want to know more about RFID? Scan our RFID FAQs for questions commonly asked about this popular technology.

How RFID Works

How can you tell whether a tag is going in or out of an area? The most reliable and cost-effective solution for tracking the direction assets are moving is to use infrared sensors with fixed RFID readers. A common practice is to place two sensors above a doorway, one inside and one out. The first sensor to trip indicates the direction of the moving asset. How does information get from a reader to the software system? [caption id="attachment_3283" align="alignright" width="300"]RFID tag RFID tags are commonly used to manage fixed assets, track consumables, and maintain stock levels.[/caption] To transfer data, you must first install software. Some companies develop their own interface; others purchase software such as RFTrack.NET. System ID can advise you on the best solution for your particular needs. Once software is installed, there are two options for transmitting data. The first is to continuously push information using wireless feeds. Or, you can manually place your handheld RFID reader into a data cradle and upload it at your leisure using a serial, USB, or Ethernet connection. How do fixed RFID readers determine where an asset is located? It’s important to select a tag with the correct read range to prevent seeing tags in other rooms. You can also adjust read ranges of existing tags by reducing the RF power coming from the reader. Do RFID tags only indicate the last reader that read it and not the actual physical location of an asset? Technically that is true; RFID technology cannot triangulate the actual location of a tag. That said, you can set up readers/antennas that cover an entire area. This allows you to see what is in a room at any given time rather than just seeing a snapshot of something as it moves through the doorway. How can I pinpoint the exact location of a tagged item using a handheld RFID reader? Different tags have varying signal strengths. With passive RFID, you can move handheld RFID readers around the room and actually see the signal go up and down. This allows you to hone in on the tag location within a foot or two, which is helpful when searching for misplaced items or assets that have moved from one department to another. Is it possible to use both active and passive RFID in a warehouse? Active and passive RFID operate on different frequency channels, so you can use both in a warehouse. You will need different readers, however. Passive RFID readers cannot read active tags and vice versa.

RFID Readers and Tags

What’s the difference between active and passive RFID? There are several differences between these types of tags, as shown in the following comparison chart.



Passive RFID

Active RFID

Read Range

  • Up to 40 feet (fixed readers)
  • Up to 20 feet (handheld readers)
  • Up to 300 feet or more


  • No power source
  • Battery operated

Tag Life

  • Up to 10 years depending upon the environment
  • 3 – 8 years depending on the tag broadcast rate

Ideal Use

  • Managing inventory using handheld RFID readers
  • Tracking assets using fixed RFID readers when security if not a requirement
  • Real-time asset monitoring with fixed readers at choke-points or within zones
  • Provides a better layer of security


  • Functions without a battery
  • Has a useful life of 20+ years
  • Usually much less expensive to manufacture
  • Much smaller in size (some the size of a grain of rice)
  • Almost limitless applications in consumer goods and other areas
  • Read range is longest of any tag
  • Able to monitor and control independently
  • Can initiate communications
  • Can perform diagnosis
  • Has the highest bandwidth
  • Tags can determine the best communication path
  • May have sensors that can use electricity


  • Can only be read at short distances, which significantly limits a readers’ use
  • May not be possible to include sensors that use electricity for power
  • Tag is readable for a long time, even after a product has been sold and is no longer being tracked
  • Cannot function without a power source
  • Tags are usually more expensive
  • Tags are larger, which can limit where they are applied
  • Long-term maintenance is greater if batteries are replaced properly
  • Battery outages can cause costly misreads

Cost - Tags

  • Usually lower 
  • Usually higher 

Cost - Readers

  • Typically higher
  • Typically lower
  How does media influence read range? Literally there are hundreds of tags designed for almost every situation. But as a general rule, labels typically work best on dry surfaces and cardboard, while metal and plastic items require specialty tags. Tags can transmit signals through substances—like wood—but they cannot penetrate metal, as in the case of items stored in a metal container. Other conditions also impact reads, including ice, overlapping labels, and size. Ask a System ID advisor on the best label to use for your specific situation. Do passive tags have read/write capabilities? Yes, they do. Can I customize a tag with a unique ID number? All RFID tags come preprogrammed with unique serial numbers. You can either use those or customize the tags with your own numbering scheme using any hexadecimal code. System ID recommends purchasing tags that are pre-encoded, labeled with a range of numbers that you specify, and that display a barcode and human-readable number of the encoded ID. That makes it easier to assign a number to a specific asset. Can I use disposable tags with passive RFID? Actually, disposable tags are primarily used for passive RFID. And the price has steadily declined over the past few years making them an affordable option for industries of all kinds. For example, distributors adhere them to cardboard containers, while retailers attach them to clothing. While most disposable tags are affordable, the price for a tag or label usually increases for items that are more expensive or trickier to transport, as in the case of costly chemicals in glass containers. Contact System ID for a free sample and a quote on disposable RFID tags.

RFID Applications

Can I use RFID to track consumables and stock levels in a warehouse? Yes. This is a common use of RFID technology. There are several software applications that help you track consumables and stock levels, as well as manage fixed assets. Contact System ID to determine which solution best fits your needs. Can I use RFID to track rented garments such as graduation gowns and tuxedos? You can adhere RFID specialty tags to garments and wash the clothing, if needed. Do RFID tags work on metal pipes that transport liquids? Yes. In fact, they work well on metal pipes. Can I apply RFID tags to items that spin? It depends on how fast the item is turning. RFID tags work well on wheels and machine tools, but for a high-spinning machine part you would likely need to stop it to read the tag. What is the best RFID tag for guitars? To advise you on the optimal solution, we need more information about the application and desired placement. Please contact System ID for personal advice. Will RFID tags work on curved surfaces? Yes, you can apply RFID tags to curved surfaces if you do not overlap the tag on top of itself. Doing so “detunes” the chip in the tag and prevents the scanner from reading it. Can I read individually tagged metal tools stored inside a shipping container? You can read tagged metal items from the outside of a container if the container is not metal and the tags are not lying on top of each other. To read tagged metal items inside a metal container, you must open the door, and scan them using a handheld RFID reader. Again, you will not be able to complete the scan if the RFID tags are lying on top of one another. What tag do I use to track car and truck tires? The answer is… it depends upon whether you are tracking them in a warehouse or while in use. Contact System ID to discuss your specific needs and an advisor can help you select the right tag. Are there small RFID tags for items like plants and jewelry? Yes, but you need to remember that the smaller the tag, the smaller the antenna and read range. So reading small tags from long distances isn’t feasible. You can, however, read smaller tags from closer distances. How reliable are passive RFID tags in extremely cold temperatures (-80C)? To scan items in extreme environments, you must purchase an enclosed RFID tag designed to withstand harsh conditions. Contact System ID for help selecting the right for extreme temperatures. What type of tag is best suited for tracking kits—and their contents—in a manufacturing environment? There are several types of tags that would work depending on the kit and its content. Contact System ID for advice on which tag works best for your situation. Can I use RFID with Wasp Asset Tracking software? Wasp is currently modifying its asset tracking software to work with RFID.

RFID General Questions

What is the projected growth for RFID? According to an April 2012 article by ABI Research, “The market for RFID transponders, readers, software and services will generate $70.5bn from 2012 to the end of 2017.” It further states that the RFID market is expected to grow 20 percent each year. Which sectors comprise most of that growth? ABI says government, retail, and transportation and logistics will account for 60 percent of the revenue generated over the next five years. I have a small warehouse business. Why would I use RFID instead of a traditional barcode system? Handheld RFID readers will cost more than handheld barcode readers. But you must consider the amount of time and the manpower it takes to complete an audit and track assets and inventory to calculate the return on your investment. System ID can help you calculate the ROI to determine whether RFID is the right option for your company. What role does System ID play in its partnership with manufacturers?  Most manufacturers do not directly sell their hardware and software, but choose instead to sell through providers like System ID. We select manufacturers with the best products and solutions, and then we establish elite partnerships with them. Our employees go through extensive training so they understand the features and benefits of every offering. Doing so allows us to analyze, recommend, and implement data capture solutions that save companies time and money. Examples are software and systems for managing inventory, tracking assets, and creating mobile coupons. Can I try an RFID handheld reader and tags before I buy them? Yes, we do offer demo equipment and tags but would need to find out more about the application driving the RFID integration and the environment where tags will be read. Please contact a System ID Solution Sales Consultant at 1.888.648.4452 for more information.