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Design of UHF-based RFID Systems

In order to deploy radio frequency identification to its maximum potential, be sure to consider real-life usage scenarios of a product by an end user, take into account deployment scalability and support, and understand the technology and its limitations.
By Akshay Bal
Dec 17, 2017

One key factor when it comes to designing solutions using passive UHF RFID is to understand how exactly the technology works, with its benefits and limitations, and to ensure that products are designed to address business needs successfully to provide a return on investment (ROI). This article will provide a high-level overview of how to utilize the technology in the right way to design and implement a UHF solution successfully. These concepts can be used for any industry, based on the application being designed and the environment in which it will be used.

Basic components of any UHF RFID solution could encompass the following segments: readers, antennas, general-purpose input/output (GPIO) devices, power sources, middleware to process tag data, software, handheld readers, printers and tags. Usually, depending on the application being developed to serve a business need, any or all of these hardware components could be used, in addition to other hardware infrastructure available on the market. But before we start designing a solution, the first question to ask is what business need we are trying to solve with the application.

Understanding of the problem statement is the first step toward designing the right application that will actually work in the field and provide the expected results. Sometimes, companies try to create an RFID-based product without considering the actual benefits and limitations of the technology, but understanding these correctly can put a company on the right path.

The outcome of understanding the problem statement will help us to understand the most important factor in designing an RFID solution, which is deciding the frequency on which the hardware will operate. Solutions that need or have the ability to operate tags and antennas over a large distance typically work with passive or active UHF RFID solutions. For simplicity of our discussion, we will discuss passive UHF technology. On the flipside, if an application being designed needs close proximity of the tags to the antenna, we would go the high-frequency (13.56 Mhz) route.

Therefore, based on the actual application, it is very important to consider what frequency would be used to design the solution. High-frequency (HF) and passive ultrahigh-frequency (UFH)—the exact frequency range depends on the country of operation—have the same principle of data transfer (tag-antenna-reader) but have a few different aspects to their functionality. HF antennas have a very limited range (usually inches) compared to UHF antennas (which could be several feet). Also, the tags and readers utilized for each frequency and application are different. The basic understanding that RF is absorbed by liquids and reflected by metals can help us decide the right direction for tag selection.

While the advantages of UHF are long range and readability capacity, at the same time we need to understand the environment in which the technology will be deployed before we can determine if there will be an increase or decrease in the readability of the tags. Therefore, the challenges common to both frequencies could be used to benefit the actual application as well. Liquids absorb UHF energy, whereas metal reflects it. Incorporating this into our solution design turns them into an advantage and not a challenge, based on the environment and circumstances in which the product operates.

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