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What are RFID Standards and Protocols? EPCglobal and ISO

  • Abhishek Shukla
  • Jan 25, 2024
  • RFID
What are RFID Standards and Protocols? EPCglobal and ISO

Technology has become an integral part of many business processes. It has enabled widespread business process optimization by collecting data through sensors, identification, and tracking means. The use of IoT and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technologies has been the most effective in that regard. RFID, as an AIDC technology, allows businesses to implement cost-effective and efficient item-level tagging and identification in various day-to-day operations including item tracking and sorting in retail stores and inventory, fleet management in logistics, warehouse management in supply chains, etc. 

RFID technology is a prominent Industry 4.0 technology that has completely changed the manufacturing industry as well. RFID sensors can monitor machine parts and their working conditions including utilization, maintenance, and repairs. RFID sensors, in a manufacturing setting, can monitor temperature, humidity, strain, etc. By collecting data on each manufacturing operation, RFID technology ensures high productivity, safety of workers from sudden breakdown of machines, and predictive maintenance. 

RFID Technology

Radio Frequency Identification is a short-range, wireless standard that is used to automatically identify and track RFID-tagged objects or individuals. RFID technology has two main components namely RFID readers and RFID tags that work with an RFID software system to perform its functions. 

When an RFID Reader interrogates RFID-tagged objects, the reader signal is captured by RFID tags in the vicinity. The tag antenna uses the Radio Frequency signal energy to activate the microchip inside the RFID tag (Passive RFID). The RFID tag then sends the encoded data in the form of RF signals which are captured by the RFID reader antenna and decoded for the end users. The RFID software facilitates the recording and storing of this information/data for future uses and decision-making. Various RFID software has distinct programming to process this recorded data as per the requirements of the business. 

RFID labels are a cost-effective and efficient way to do everything a barcode can do and more. RFID labels, unlike barcode labels, don’t require a clear line of sight to transmit data to the RFID reader. 

A passive RFID label (RFID tag with no batteries) costs 4-5 US cents at present while an RFID reader costs a few hundred US dollars (800 USD onwards).

RFID standards and protocols

Like many wireless technologies, RFID technology also follows some standards and communication protocols. Since RFID technology uses many frequencies, various regulating authorities such as the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) in the USA, and ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) in Europe are tasked to regulate these radio frequencies. India, Japan, and other countries have different bodies that allot ISM bands for RFID communications. 

RFID frequencies are as follows:

1. Low Frequency (LF, 125KHz)

2. High Frequency (HF, 13.56MHz)

3. Ultra High Frequency (UHF, 860 MHz-960 MHz)

RFID technology is also regulated by various standards such as EPC standards and ISO standards. These standards define the ‘air interface protocol’ that RFID readers and RFID tags use to communicate and how data is read and written.

AutoID-centre in 1999 was the organization that is accredited with the development of EPC (electronic product code) and is considered the force behind the RFID development that we have seen so far. Sanjay Sarma, David L. Brock, Daniel Engels, and Kevin Ashton came up with the research that pioneered global RFID adoption in retail and supply chains. 

AutoID-Centre knew that for RFID to become the global identification technology with EPC (global item-level tagging), the cost of RFID tags must be less than 5 US Cents and specifications must be simple to implement while keeping the microchip/tag development cost to a minimum. 

Here’s how the initial progress was made in this direction:

1. AutoID-Centre with Alien Technologies (a small startup in California, USA) developed Generation 1 class 1 standard. It was a UHF standard.

2. A class 0 standard, which was less flexible but high-performing, developed by Matrics (acquired by Symbol in 2004), was also a UHF standard.

3. Philips and Auto-ID Centre came up with a high-performance HF protocol, termed EPC Class 1 standard. 

4. ISO 18000 standards emerged. 

All these standards came up but none of them worked universally. What RFID needed was Generation 2.0 of RFID standards.


As I mentioned before, AutoID-centre had already figured out that in order to keep the RFID costs to a minimum, a simple specification standard was needed. That is why in October 2003, AutoID-centre gave the EPC (electronic product code) intellectual property rights to UCC (Uniform Code Council that managed barcoding and UPC barcodes). UCC created a separate entity named EPCglobal with EAN (Electronic Article Number) organization. It was tasked with allotting EPC numbers to end users and to have the final say in specifications and standards. 

EPC was a 96-bit identification scheme that is larger than UPC and can store more information. Depending upon the tag memory, it could be 32 bits to 256 bits long including access codes, kill passwords, and reserve memory data. The presence of these various memory banks in RFID tag microchips meant that more information could be stored on an RFID tag than on a UPC-12 barcode.

An EPC data structure has four parts

1. Header, 0-7 bits

2. EPC Manager, 8-35 bits

3. Object class, 36-59 bits

4. Serial Number, 60-95 bits

Now this data structure can result in trillions of identification numbers, so EPC is future-proof. 

So why can’t RFID tags contain more details about any product? The reason is security and tag cost. EPC generation 2.0 allows the part of the EPC to be scrambled which ensures security. More information meant more memory capacity, which meant a bigger microchip and a higher cost of RFID tag. And that is why information is limited and in the form of an electronic code, like your license plate number. 

Here’s a list of RFID Interface protocols 

1. Generation 1 Class 0: It was designed for UHF frequencies. It was a preprogrammed read-only tag and users cannot write a new identification number on the tag. It offered fast communication but no flexibility. 

2. Generation 1 class 1: This RFID protocol was designed for HF and UHF frequencies. It can be written only once and read many times (WORM), and it is easier for data management in a sequential order.

3. Generation 2.0 Class 1: It was also written once and read more, suitable for HF and UHF and globally accepted. 

4. ISO standard: It was for LF, HF, and UHF. It is not related to the data structure but to how the tag and reader communicate. It was a read-only tag identifier and capable of keeping the object identifier and information in a sequential order. 

ISO (International Organization for Standardization)

ISO, the (International Organization for Standardization) emerged with 18000 specifications that dealt with the communication between an RFID tag and an RFID reader, the air interface. It has four primary components but ISO 18000-6 is the one that deals with UHF. 

The ISO 18000 standards facilitate true global interoperability in tag and reader communications, even at different frequencies. They create a universal operating standard for the same.

Some other ISO standards are:

1. ISO/IEC 15961 RFID for Item Management, ensuring Data Protocol/Application interface: common functional command and syntax features.

2. ISO/IEC 15962 RFID for Item Management: Data encoding rules and logical memory functions, exchange of information, interface procedure. 

3. ISO/IEC 15963 RFID for Item Management, Unique Identification of RF Tag, and quality control in the manufacturing process. 

EPC Standards Generation 2.0

For the lack of standards, AutoID-centre classified the earlier standards as class 0 through class 5 depending upon their functionality. Class 0 and class 1, described for low-cost identity tags became the main standards for retail business operations and DoD for the time being. 

Now we have EPC generation 2.0 with the same class 0 through class 4 but with more functionality and open standards. 

Gen 2.0 creates an interoperable, global standard that makes the deployment of many readers effortless. It is technically more advanced with additional features and uses different memory banks including user memory, EPC memory, reserve memory, and TID (tag identifier data) memory. It employs more advanced anti-collision protocols for quick reading and more accurate performance.

The kill function in Gen 2.0 ensures privacy and allows easy deactivation of tags, therefore, it can be easily used in apparel and shoes. The conceal function uses a 16-digit random number generator (RN16) to scramble a part of the data so that someone else cannot read the tag. 

The Gen2.0 class 1 standard is backward-compatible for Generation 1.0 Class 1 and Class 0. It supersedes and replaces the both class specifications. Class 1 Gen 2.0 also supports ISO 18000-6 standard protocol, the ISO 18000-6c protocol now, thus, creates one global standard and eliminates the lack of interoperability between Class 0 and Class 1 tag.

To conclude, various RFID protocols and standards are developed to facilitate easy communication and privacy when it comes to RFID communications. The Gen 2.0 standards ensure easier communication between a tag and a reader. While EPC standards deal with tag data structure and how the data is written and read, ISO standards deal with air interface protocol i.e. the communication between a tag and a reader.

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  • Created on Sep 29, 2023
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