Difference between NFC and RFID

The difference between NFC and RFID

Near Field Communication or NFC and Radio Frequency Identification or RFID are two types of electronic identification protocols based on the use of electromagnetic radiation within the frequency band of radio waves to wirelessly identify and track digital data or information embedded into tags that are attached to objects. These technologies have industrial and commercial applications. Note that NFC and RFID share several similarities albeit some key differences.

NFC vs. RFID: The Difference Between Near Field Communication and Radio Frequency Identification

The Similarities Between NFC and RFID

NFC technology is essentially a specialized subset of RFID. Hence, between the two, Radio Frequency Identification technology came first with the introduction of its true precursor in 1973 by American inventor Mario Cardullo. To be specific, Cardullo introduced a patented device that was a passive radio transponder with memory.

On the other hand, the earliest version of NFC appeared in 1997 when multinational toy manufacturer Hasbro, Inc. used a patented technology licensed under Andrew White and Marc Borrett for its Star Wars merchandise toys. Sony and Philips both developed the technical specification for modern NFC in 2002.

The technology behind NFC received an ISO/EOC standard and ECMA standard in 2003. Sony, Philips, and Nokia launched the NFC Forum in 2004. The technology gained a further foothold and practical applications in 2010 with the emerging popularity of smartphones and portable wireless communication.

Nonetheless, NFC is a branch of High-Frequency RFID. Both operate within the globally available and unregulated 13.56 MHz frequency band. Since their first introduction, both technologies have been used for electronic identification and tracking of tagged objects.

Active NFC or RFID devices work by processing data or information from another NFC or RFID tag. These tags can either be active or passive.

The Differences Between NFC and RFID

The most notable difference between NFC and RFID is range. Active RFID tags have a broadcast range of up to 100 meters while passive RFID tags operate in the low-frequency bands of 125 to 135 kHz, high-frequency band of 13.56 MHz, and ultra-high frequency band of 856 MHz to 960 Mhz. Meanwhile, NFC is confined within the 13.56 MHz frequency band and a maximum range of 10 centimeters. The longer range of RFID makes it ideal for use in situations in which proximity is an important consideration.

However, what sets NFC apart from Radio Frequency Identification is that it is more flexible or versatile in terms of applications. A near field communication device technology is an improved version of High-Frequency RFID technology that enables two-way transmission or communications. NFC is not only an electronic identification protocol but also an advanced wireless communication protocol.

For example, an NFC device such as a smartphone functions both as a reader and a tag or transmitter. Two NFC-enabled smartphones or other NFC-enabled active devices can establish two-way or peer-to-peer communication. The NFC standard essentially allows an enabled device to act as a type of RFID-enabled reader and transponder.

Because of the unique characteristics of NFC technology, it has more practical applications than standard RFID technology. Some of these applications include wireless communication, contactless payment, and bootstrapping capability. Nonetheless, NFC is built around the standards of High-Frequency RFID and expands the applications of radio-based wireless communication.