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Like QR Codes, If Smart Phones Could Read RFID Tags as Well

  • Mahesh Tiwari
  • Dec 28, 2023
  • RFID
RFID in your smartphone

It’s not like smartphones couldn’t read QR codes before but it was through some applications. Users had to download an app which was designed to read 2D barcodes. It was an inefficient method and required internet which wasn’t great at the moment, thus users preferred using a barcode scanner instead of mobiles.

Things changed when Apple Inc., in 2017, integrated the QR code scanning feature into its iPhone’s camera itself. Many other mobile manufacturers followed suit and did the same. Scanning 2D barcode images had been completely revolutionized at this point. And the global coronavirus pandemic did the rest. Businesses started to look back at this 30-year-old technology as a means to automate a few operations, which worked by the way. NFC is another technology that works same as RFID and many smartphone manufacturers provide NFC feature in smartphones to allow consumers to read NFC labeled products (details).

RFID in your Smartphone

Like any other technology, RFID has matured as well. The RFID implementation prices have come down greatly from what they were a decade ago and businesses are proactively employing RFID for simplifying and optimizing day-to-day business operations.

But we’re going to talk about something else. A team of innovators at the University of California, San Diego started working on an idea; the idea was to turn your normal QR code reading smartphone into a fully-fledged RFID reader.

The Radical Innovators

A team Led by Patrick Mercier, Dinesh Bharadia, Shih-Jai Kuo, and Manideep Dunna thought of using an inexpensive chip inside the tag and a small software update for the smartphone. 

Imagine what it would do to the RFID market. The RFID market was valued at 10.12B USD in year 2021 and with the current CAGR of 9.79% throughout this decade, RFID will be a 23.37B USD market.

RFID at Present

At present, the RFID system employs an RFID tag, antenna, and RFID reader to communicate and transfer data via radio frequency signals. 

It’s a wireless AIDC technology that is capable of capturing data, identifying and tracking objects, animals, etc.

It’s worth pointing out that the global retail market has been the biggest beneficiary of RFID technology due to its high returns on investments, from using it at POS (point of sale) to preventing shoplifting, from taking stock of the inventory to inventory control and stock replenishments, from tracking suppliers’ shipments, missing stock to enhancing customer experience, the benefits are countless and the opportunities are immense.

How this RFID Smartphone tech works?

The technology is quite simple yet revolutionary. It uses a combination of smartphone’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities as both utilize radio frequency to function. 

When a chip-based RFID tag, as mentioned earlier, comes within a range of a few feet of a smartphone, the phone’s LTE signal powers the tag, and then the smartphone sends Bluetooth interrogating signals to the tag. The tag responds by sending back a Wi-Fi signal to the smartphone, which might contain the data encoded in the tag.

The information could be anything ranging from product manufacturing details to the story behind the product. It could be a unique ID to identify the product or a code for tracking needs.

Read HF RFID/NFC tags with a Smartphone

RFID, NFC, and QR Code technologies are increasingly being used in retail stores such as Zara, UNIQLO, H&M, Walmart, etc., simply to tag retail products with these labels and track such items throughout the store. It facilitates easy product identification, allowing retailers and consumers to get more information including product details, manufacturing, current offers, etc. on the product. 

HF RFID or NFC technology works on 13.56MHz operating frequency and modern-day smartphones come with an NFC feature to allow users to easily read such tags. 

In retail stores, consumers can just flash their smartphones to read an HF RFID or NFC tag and get access to encoded product data, making it easier for them to make decisions. 

Read UHF RFID tags with a Smartphone

When it comes to UHF RFID tags, the tag reading is a bit different than NFC or HF RFID. Using UHF RFID tags in retail stores to label products is the preferred choice for many retailers as it is easy to read and offers a long read range of up to 15m sans a clear line of sight. 

It is a fact that smartphones cannot read UHF RFID tags as reading a UHF RFID label on a product requires an RF signal coming from the UHF RFID reader that is used to power the microchip in UHF RFID labels. With this RF signal energy, the UHF RFID label cannot transmit the encoded data to any reader. 

However, a smartphone can read a UHF RFID tag without any hardware modification in the smartphone or the UHF RFID system. Using a predefined gesture, by shaking the smartphone in front of a UHF RFID labeled item, the information encoded with the label can be delivered to the smartphone. The mobile application system can map the motion gesture by the smartphone and changes in backscattered signal (due to motion gesture) to fetch data from the specific tags, using an RFID reader, and using the server to deliver it to the smartphone. 

Apart from that a Wi-Fi beacon can also be used to transfer the data to the user’s smartphone. 

What are the benefits of this RFID smartphone system?

The RFID system itself has many benefits in asset tracking and identification. The technology is getting cheaper by the day, and implementation charges are coming down as well but this smartphone RFID system will completely change how we see RFID. It wouldn’t be limited to big businesses but small businesses like grocery stores, local pharmacies, small schools, and libraries can also utilize RFID, much in line with BLE, which also uses a smartphone’s Bluetooth signals to transmit data to consumers.

The important thing is that it’s not your typical RFID yet it gives an experience of an RFID system and that is the whole reason behind this; enabling a cost-effective RFID-like system for small businesses with fewer areas to cover for tracking and identification needs.

Disclaimer: The information presented here is for general information purposes only and true to best of our understanding. Users are requested to use any information as per their own understanding and knowledge. Before using any of the information, please refer to our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.


  • Created on Mar 06, 2023
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