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How do RFID and Contactless Smartcards differ?

September 12, 2011

The confusion between RFID and Contactless Smartcard technology lies in the fact that they both use RF (radio frequency) to communicate between card and reader but differ greatly in the security each technology offers and in their common applications.

Technically, both RFID and Contactless Smartcards are considered RFID (radio frequency identification) because they use radio waves to communicate with a reader and transfer data to identify objects or people. The best way to differentiate RFID from a Contactless Smartcard is by the application.

RFID is a wireless automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) technology that includes tags, antenna or coil electronics programmed with unique information, reader and software.  RFID tags can be either active or passive and are used mainly for supply chain management, due to the greater read range.

Contactless Smart cards are utilized in applications where greater security needs to be achieved such as payment/banking, mass transit, identification and access control.  They contain an IC (integrated chip) and communicate with a reader but afford a higher level of security.  The data can be encrypted to work only with specific readers.  In addition, the read range is limited to four inches.

RFID ID Badge

RFID Enabled Technology Card

Keep in mind, the longer the read range, the more susceptible the radio frequency signal is to interception.  However, depending on the application and the security measures needed, one technology may be better for your needs than the other.  Contact an ID Consultant to discuss your application in greater depth.

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