What is RFID?

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification.

It is used in many industries and for many applications. From security at retail stores to tracking luggage at airports, it’s also the technology in your contactless credit and debit cards.

RFID can work on different frequencies and here it can get confusing as they have differing ranges and features. This is further compounded by battery-powered (active) systems and passive ones with no power source. And environmental factors such as the water in human bodies can further affect the range and suitability of a particular frequency for a particular purpose.

However, they can be grouped into three basic types, namely short-range, medium-range and long-range.

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RFID in live events.

Most RFID systems used in Conferences and Events are short-range ones. This is because most applications are looking at individual responses, and not the group as a whole.

For example, to log on to a tablet, or to record a visit at an exhibitor’s stand, or to manage attendance accurately, you need to ensure the right person’s badge has been scanned.

Longer-range systems can be used at larger events, but given that human bodies make them less reliable (especially as badges tend to lay against people’s chests), you either need to funnel people through arches or be happy with a significant drop in accuracy as a result. 

At an exhibition where you are looking at footfall and heat maps i.e. the activity at a group level, this may not be an issue, but for a smaller event where you are giving out attendance certificates, the results need to be 100% reliable.

Alternatives to RFID.

Barcodes are a series of vertical lines printed on every product we buy. Laser systems at supermarket checkouts can read them very quickly, but these scanners are not cheap. They are often referred to as 1D codes (one dimensional).

QR codes tend to be square and can contain a lot more information than barcodes as they go across and up. They are therefore referred to as two-dimensional codes. The disadvantage is the scanner effectively takes a photo to read the image and therefore the lighting needs to be good and the qr code needs to be held still to work. However, it is compatible with every device with a screen and a camera and can be cheaper than RFID as it requires no additional electronics. A common use for these is for boarding passes at airports.

RFID does not rely on scanning an image and the chip is hidden within the badge, meaning it does not take up any printed space. RFID can be read at a distance and therefore items can be identified and located even if they are out of visual range.

All three systems are commonplace and have their advantages and disadvantages. And all three have different sub-types so deciding which system to use might not be obvious at first glance. Like most things, it really comes down to what you are trying to achieve…

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