RFID and NFC – What’s the Difference?

RFID and NFC are two acronyms that can make your events more interactive and feature-rich. They are similar technologies that also have differences. But what are those differences?

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification and has been around for many years now. It is used extensively throughout many industries and all of us have come into contact with it in our daily lives, often without knowing it.


The system comprises of two parts: a tag and a reader. The tag has an antenna and memory chip containing a unique identifier and space to store information. Tags are available in all shapes and sizes from stickers to cards to wristbands and some even have a battery to extend their range.
When a tag comes into range of a reader, the tag is read and the reader can store some information from the card or even update the data stored on the tag. Depending on the type of tag, the data may be stored securely and accessible only from authorised readers.
If you put two tags together, nothing happens. They cannot exchange information between each other and always require a reader for anything to happen.

The ‘R’ in RFID stand for ‘radio’ and there are systems that use different frequencies, and without getting too technical, this allows some systems to have a longer range or distance between the reader and the tag. For applications such as tacking items in a warehouse or automated toll booths, a long range is a good thing. On a mass transit system where you want to read individual cards at turnstiles, a short range makes more sense. Medium range RFID is used in the security tags you find in shops and supermarkets which effectively form a radio ‘barrier’ at the exit points and have an ideal range of 2 – 3 metres.

NFC (Near Field Communications) is a branch of RFID and uses just one of the frequencies available to RFID systems. This particular frequency is a short-range one, typically less than 5cm, but potentially up to about 10cm.


The main difference between the two is that the reader in an NFC system can also be the tag. This means that two NFC devices can effectively talk to each other securely.
NFC circuits are becoming more popular on smartphones and tablets as they allow the device to not only read tags to collect information, but also share information with other devices. This means your NFC device can be set up to perform contactless payment when placed within a few centimetres of a payment point.

So what’s the best for conferences and events? RFID or NFC? Well. there really is no correct answer however, for most occasions an RFID tag read by an NFC device will give you the best of both worlds.