RFID – Radio Frequency Identification

RFID is an important concept in the modern era. The basic principle of operation is simple: radio waves are sent out from an RF reader to an RFID tag in order to track or identify the object, whether it is a supermarket item, a car, or an Alzheimer patient.

RFID tags are subdivided into three main categories: Active, passive and semipassive. Active RFID tags employ a battery to power them whereas passive tags utilize the incoming radio wave as a power source. The semipassive tag also employs a battery source, but relies on the RFID reader signal as a return signal. For this reason, the active and semi passive tags have a greater range than the passive type. The passive types are more compact and also cheaper and for this reason are more common than the other two types. The RFID picks up the incoming radio waves with an antenna which then directs the electrical signal to a transponder. Transponders receive RF/Microwaves and transmit a signal of a different frequency. After the transponder is the rectifier circuit, which uses a DC current to charge a capacitor which (for the passive tag) is used to power the device.

The RFID reader consists of a microcontroller, an RF signal generator and a receiver. Both the transmitter and receiver have an antennas which convert radio waves to electrical currents and vice versa.

The following table shows frequencies and ranges for the various bands used in RFID


As expected, lower frequencies travel further distances. The lower frequencies tend to be used for the passive type of RFID tags.

For LF and HF tags, the working principle is inductive coupling whereas with the UHF and Microwave, the principle is electromagnetic coupling. The following image shows inductive coupling.

inductive coupling

A transformer is formed between the two coils of the reader and tag. The transformer links the two circuits together through electromagnetic induction. This is also known as near field coupling.

Far field coupling/radiative coupling uses backscatter by reradiating from the tag to the reader. This depends on the load matching, so changing the load impedance will change the intensity of the return wave. The load condition can be changed according to the data in order for the data to be sent back to the reader. This is known as backscatter modulation.

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