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RFID Frequencies: Low, High, and Ultra High; What They are and why it Matters

RFID Frequencies: Low, High, and Ultra High; What They are and why it Matters

RFID 101 | 20 March 2019

Posted by Josh Miller

RFID Frequencies_ Low, High, and Ultra High; What They are and why it Matters


Here at Computype we get asked a lot of questions regarding RFID frequencies, which is understandable considering frequency is a very important factor in the decision making process when considering investing in RFID. Here we will cover the basics of RFID frequency in hopes of making your decision making process a bit easier. Prior to deciding what type of RFID systems to review (and test!) in an RFID solution, it is important to determine the application. One reason why this is so critical is because of the properties of the RFID labels themselves.

RFID enhanced labels have specific properties based on the type of tags and the frequency on which they operate. We will specifically review the frequencies and some of the behavioral properties of those tags in this post. But first, let’s talk a bit about what the term ‘frequency’ actually means. 

Low, High, and Ultra High Frequencies in RFID What's the Difference

 

What Does Frequency Mean?

When we refer to operating frequency, we generally refer to it in hertz (usually as kilohertz or megahertz). A hertz is the standard measurement of a wave cycle (radio waves in this case). If you think of an ocean wave that has a peak and a trough, a hertz measures the midpoint from where the wave started through the process where it peaks, comes down through the trough, and back up to the midpoint. Once the wave goes through the peak, the trough, and hits its midpoint, it is said to have completed a cycle.

The frequency is the number of cycles a wave completes in a single second. A wave that completes one cycle in one second would have one hertz. So, a high frequency tag with an operating frequency of 13.56 MHz (Megahertz) radiates a wave that cycles 13,560,000 times per second. 

High frequency is only one of the three frequency levels, along with low frequency and ultra-high frequency. So, now that we know what frequency means, let’s jump into the definitions of each type and how they are typically applied.

Frequency
Type

Frequency
Rate

Pro’s

Con’s

Applications

Low Frequency

125-134 kilohertz

Ability to transmit through RFID opaque materials

Slower data transfer

Low read distance

Animal Tagging

Access Control

High Frequency

13.56 megahertz

Wide range of transfer rates and read distances

Some ability to transmit through RFID opaque materials

NFC

Not entirely unaffected by RFID opaque materials

Smart Phones

Tracking or a wide variety of objects

Ultra-High Frequency

860-960 megahertz

Extremely high read distance

High data transfer rates

Significantly impacted by RFID opaque materials

Inventory tracking

Logistics

Race timing

 

Low Frequency Tags

Low frequency (LF) tags generally operate at 125–134 kilohertz, meaning, they usually have slower data transfer rates than their high frequency or ultra-high frequency counterparts. In addition, the frequency platform requires that the object is close to the reader (generally a few centimeters to inches away) and not quickly moving in order to transmit the data stored on the tag. The desire for faster data transfer and convenient scanning has led to a decline in use of low frequency RFID, however, this type of tag has one major benefit which can’t be ignored. Low frequency tags are not as easily impacted by RFID opaque materials such as water or metals.

Due to the ability to transmit through otherwise RFID opaque materials, this category of product can be a good fit when the object being tagged has a high water content or requires close interaction with metal. The ability to penetrate liquids can make LF tags a great fit to identify animals or even fruit. Applications under this umbrella may also include Access Control systems.

High Frequency Tags

RFID ReagentHigh Frequency (HF) tags operate at 13.56 megahertz. They are essentially the ‘Swiss army knife’ of the RFID world in that they have data transfer rates acceptable for many uses, a wide range of storing capacities and read distances that range from millimeters to meters.

Tags in this category can still operate on objects exposed to water and are often a good fit for tagging bottles or vials containing liquids. There is almost an infinite amount of tag size and memory combinations available in order to fit the needs of almost any application. There is also a protocol within HF called near field communication (NFC) which allows you to communicate with the tags using a smartphone!

These benefits can be leveraged in a wide variety of real world applications. From reagent tracking to mobile payment, the possibilities seem endless! In fact, this type of tag’s ability to interact with smartphones also makes its category increasingly popular with marketers attempting to tie digital interactions with the physical world. 

Interested in learning how NFC has been applied in diagnostics?

Ultra High Frequency Tags

The majority of UHF systems operate between 860 and 960 megahertz. The distances for UHF tags are usually measured in feet and meters. While the tags are a great fit for objects that require fast identification from a distance, the tags are significantly impacted by liquids. Because of the distance, lower cost, and quick transfer rates that come with the UHF platform, this technology has become popular for industrial applications and organizations looking for logistical improvements.  

Warehouses and labs aren’t the only places you’ll find UHF though. UHF has found its way into the world of sporting events as it is often used for race timing and for keeping track of tickets for expensive sporting events.

 

As you can see, there are a lot of options out there and this just scratches the surface of the implications within the primary tag frequency groups. Which is why working with a solutions provider can help ensure the right fit for your application needs.

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Want to know the difference between Passive, Semi-Passive, and Active Tags?

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Josh Miller

Josh Miller is Computype’s Director of Healthcare Solutions. With many years in both project management and engineering, he is able to provide expertise and valuable insight throughout our company and to our customers. Josh oversees the healthcare group and drives innovation to ensure we’re offering the best solutions.