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How Is RFID Different From Bar Codes?

Posted By RFID Journal, 09.01.2015

What are the key differences?

—Name withheld


That's a bit like asking how a car is different from a horse-drawn buggy, or how an airplane differs from a hot-air balloon. Here are a few of the main differences:

• Radio frequency identification is 25 times faster than bar codes when it comes to conducting inventory counts.
• RFID tags are serialized, so each item can be individually tracked, whereas bar codes are all the same on the same product.
• RFID is far more accurate than bar codes. People sometimes miss items when scanning a large group of products. RFID might not always achieve 100 percent accuracy, but it often gets a much higher rate than bar codes when a large number of items need to be counted.
• RFID tags can hold far more data than bar codes (or QR codes, for that matter).
• RFID tags can be written to, enabling a user to update information stored on them. Bar codes, on the other hand, can only be read.
• RFID often requires no human intervention to capture data, whereas a bar code usually requires a human user to point a scanner and pull a trigger.
• RFID is less expensive than bar codes. Yes, a bar code itself is inexpensive, but you need a person to scan that bar code and labor is costly, which is why retailers typically count inventory only twice annually via bar codes.
• RFID does not require line of sight, so you can count the number of tagged items within a box without opening it.
• RFID is usually orientation-insensitive, meaning you can interrogate a tag regardless of its orientation to a reader, whereas a bar code needs to be oriented to a scanner in order for it to be read automatically.
• RFID tags, unlike bar codes, can be read through dirt or grime, and even when embedded in plastic containers or products.
• RFID tags cannot easily be counterfeited, whereas bar codes can be printed via a laser printer.
• Passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags can be interrogated from upwards of 30 meters (98 feet) away, whereas bar codes are typically readable from a distance of only a few feet.

I could probably go on, but I'm sure you get the point from the above examples. Bar codes are great. They have done a very good job for grocery stores and other retail outlets. But just as the horse-drawn buggy (which was also great for its time) was replaced by the car, it's time to move on to something that is far better.

—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal

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