Most people might not be aware of the fact that RFID has been around for quite a long time now. The Radio Frequency Identification technology, as an AIDC (Automatic Identification and Data Capture) tool that we use today, was first used in World War 2 when British forces used it to identify enemy aircrafts from allied aircrafts.
As far as Internet of Things is concerned, its origin is quite connected to RFID. In fact, the term ‘Internet of Things’/IoT wasn’t even in use before 1999 when Kevin Ashton first used the term at a presentation while working at P&G (Procter and Gamble).
In 1997, as a brand manager at P&G, Kevin thought of using RFID technology to manage the supply chain of this brand. His work at P&G led him to MIT where he founded the Auto-ID Centre, an RFID research consortium with Professors Sanjay Sharma and Sunny Siu and researcher David Brock. He wanted to put RFID everywhere.
Overview of RFID technology
RFID is a wireless technology that uses electromagnetic coupling in the radio frequency part of the electromagnetic spectrum to identify any tagged object/animal or individual with a unique identification no. encoded with the RFID tag.
Whenever an RFID tagged item is in the range of an RFID reader, the tag sends an encoded RF signal to the RFID reader which it decodes it for the end user. A software system is also used to store that data for analytical purposes.
It is worth noting that RFID only uses the radio frequency signals to communicate over a short range. Various RFID tags can provide distinct read range but passive UHF RFID is the most efficient and most cost effective providing a read range of up to 15m. Active RFID, unlike Passive RFID, uses batteries and can provide a read range of up to 100m and mostly used in RTLS (Real Time Location Services) and it is a bit costly to implement.
Overview of IoT technology
IoT, short for Internet of Things, is a network of physical devices embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables such devices to connect and exchange data over the internet. Internet of things or connected machine exceeded the number of total human population in 2007 -08 and became the internet of everything with 6.8B connected devices communicating and sharing data over the internet.
At present, according to a report by Frost and Sullivan, there are 41.76B active IoT devices (2023) and the no. is further estimated to rise rapidly.
The Role of RFID in the Internet of Things (IoT) Revolution
It is obvious by now that Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Internet of Things (IoT) are two distinct technologies and can be used together to create a more efficient and intelligent system.
If you think about it, IoT evolved from RFID and M2M (Machine to Machine) technologies that existed long back and now these technologies have become a subset of internet of things, limited to certain types of functionality with functional limitations.
RFID can be used as part of an IoT system to provide unique identification for objects. By connecting RFID tags to everyday products, they can be identified or monitored through a computing device. The relation between RFID and IoT is formed when RFID tags are connected to IoT devices.
It uses communication protocols namely TTO (Tag Talk Only) and RTF (Reader Talk First) protocol to connect all tagged objects in the IoT network. It is called RFID-IoT.
Here are some interesting facts about RFID and IoT:
1. RFID and IoT are connected when both are used together, say an Airtag (Apple developed ‘Airtag’ that uses RFID to locate items) and this way, they will get ambient intelligence and can be identified or monitored through a computing device.
2. IoT supports many networks, while RFID needs a specific radio technology to be functional.
3. IoT as a technology set can work over short to long-range networks, while RFID can only work over short range, limited to few meters.
4. IoT supports many types of data communications (BLE, NFC, Wi-Fi, LPWAN etc.) over a range of frequencies whereas RFID is only suited to reader and tag communications via authentication tokens.
5. RFID technology in IoT connects things together by sensor-enabled tags. It can generate and send important data in real-time, expanding the connected devices’ capabilities into a smart device.
In essence, RFID has a significant role to play in this IoT revolution where we are surrounded by billions of IoT devices everywhere. In fact, it were the RFID promoters and scientists working at RFID that contributed to the evolution of IoT as we see today. Though IoT has now become an umbrella term which boasts of a range of technologies, RFID remains the most popular one, driving IoT uses over short range, more so than Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.