RFID tags can be classified in a number of ways. The most common of these include passive, semi-passive or active.

While you may already know these terms, you might also be wondering what they mean to you and your specific application; if that’s the case, you’re in the right place.

Here we’ll cover what makes these types of tags different in terms of their structure, functions, features, and ideal applications.


Passive tags are typically made up of two parts – an integrated circuit and an antenna. No additional moving parts or batteries, just the bare necessities.

Without a battery, these tags receive power as they are being read through a process called coupling. This is where they get their name – a passive tag must be activated by a reader in order to transfer data. Without the presence of a reader, the passive tag remains in a passive state.

Since passive tags only operate when needed, they tend to have a long and stable lifespan. Additionally, the lack of moving parts reduces failure points.

These benefits don’t come without trade-offs however. A few downsides include minimal data storage, inability to add features, and the need for data middleware or software to perform the heavy lifting.

To some, the lack of features may be a deal-breaker, but to others simplicity is exactly what makes passive tags so appealing.

The long lifespan and reliability of passive RFID tags make them an excellent choice when tracking and identifying anything stored for an extended period of time. They’re also a great choice for assets that only need to be tracked for a very short period of time due to their cost effectiveness.


At their most basic, semi-passive tags contain an integrated circuit, antenna and battery – but they aren’t limited to those three components. The inclusion of a battery allows for a longer read range and the application of additional features such as environmental sensors, real-time tracking, and sound notifications.

There’s one main thing you won’t find in a semi-passive tag, and that’s an onboard transmitter – the main differentiating factor between semi-passive and active tags.

Without an onboard transmitter, the read range of a semi-passive tag is still somewhat limited, and with the added battery, so is its lifespan. These potential downsides won’t impact their performance when used in the right application.

Semi-passive RFID is best suited for applications where additional features such as environmental monitoring are necessary, but the tagged items are within range of the reader or can be scanned regularly.


The most complex of the three categories we’re covering here is the active tag. Active tags are made up of an integrated circuit, antenna, battery, and an on-board transmitter.

The on-board transmitter sends energy directly to the reader rather than reflecting back the energy from the reader (as occurs during coupling). This increases the read range and allows the tag to actively communicate to a reader within range.

The battery combined with the capabilities of the on-board transmitter allow active tags to adopt numerous additional features including an extremely long read range, integrated sensors, increased memory and added logic.

Since active tags contain more parts than any other type of tag and are optimized to host extra features, they tend to take up more physical space than passive or semi-passive tags. The increased materials involved also lead to increased cost.

Additionally, like semi-passive tags, active tags have limited energy since they rely on a battery for power. Their lifespan is further shortened by the on-board transmitter and any additional moving parts. With thoughtful planning and integration, your partner should be able to help you work around these potential downfalls.

Businesses working with valuable goods that need constant real-time tracking and/or environmental control are going to be the most likely to benefit from an active RFID system. Active tags can greatly simplify the processes involved in keeping high-value and/or sensitive assets safe and secure.

Hopefully, with this knowledge you’re now one step closer to finding your ideal RFID strategy!

Choosing the right activity level for your RFID strategy is only one of several factors you’ll need to consider prior to implementation, and we are here to help you along your research journey. For more information continue reading or contact one of our team members.


About author Chelsea Payeur

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