How much information can an RFID tag store?

It depends on the vendor, the application and type of tag, but typically a tag carries no more than 2 kilobytes (KB) of data—enough to store some basic information about the item it is on. Simple "license plate" tags contain only a 96-bit or 128-bit serial number. The simple tags are cheaper to manufacture and are more useful for applications where the tag will be disposed of with the product packaging. The aerospace industry wants to store parts histories on high memory tag, which has led to the introduction of passive UHF tags that store 4KB or 8KB of data.

Who are the leading RFID tag vendors?

There are many different RFID vendors with different areas of expertise. Some make active tags. Some make passive tags. Some focus only on UHF. Others sell low-, high- and ultra-high frequency systems. RFID Journal has created a searchable database of RFID vendors around the world. Visit RFID to locate the type of vendor you are looking for.

What's the difference between read-only and read-write RFID tags?

Microchips in RFID tags can be read-write, read-only or “write once, read many” (WORM). With read-write chips, you can add information to the tag or write over existing information when the tag is within range of a reader. Read-write tags usually have a serial number that can't be written over. Additional blocks of data can be used to store additional information about the items the tag is attached to (these can usually be locked to prevent overwriting of data). Read-only microchips have information stored on them during the manufacturing process. The information on such chips can never be changed. WORM tags can have a serial number written to them once, and that information cannot be overwritten later.

What's the difference between passive and active tags?

Active RFID tags have a transmitter and their own power source (typically a battery). The power source is used to run the microchip's circuitry and to broadcast a signal to a reader (the way a cell phone transmits signals to a base station). Passive tags have no battery. Instead, they draw power from the reader, which sends out electromagnetic waves that induce a current in the tag's antenna. Semi-passive tags use a battery to run the chip's circuitry, but communicate by drawing power from the reader. Active and semi-passive tags are useful for tracking high-value goods that need to be scanned over long ranges, such as railway cars on a track, but they cost more than passive tags, which means they can't be used on low-cost items.

How much does an RFID tag cost today?

Most companies that sell RFID tags do not quote prices because pricing is based on volume, the amount of memory on the tag and the packaging of the tag (whether it’s encased in plastic or embedded in a label, for instance). Generally speaking, a 96-bit EPC inlay (chip and antenna mounted on a substrate) costs from 7 to 15 U.S. cents. If the tag is embedded in a thermal transfer label on which companies can print a bar code, the price rises to 15 cents and up. Low- and high-frequency tags tend to cost a little more.

What is the read range for a typical RFID tag?

The read range of passive tags (tags without batteries) depends on many factors: the frequency of operation, the power of the reader, interference from metal objects or other RF devices. In general, low-frequency tags are read from a foot or less. High frequency tags are read from about three feet and UHF tags are read from 10 to 20 feet. Where longer ranges are needed, such as for tracking railway cars, active tags use batteries to boost read ranges to 300 feet or more.