This is a question I get asked a lot, and it is not that easy to answer. Vendors don’t advertise their prices very often, because cost is usually based on volume. I can say generally that ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) transponders tend to be a bit cheaper than high-frequency (HF) and low-frequency (LF) transponders, because the tags are simpler to manufacture and can use less metal in the antenna (HF and LF tags have a loop antenna that requires threading one end of the antenna under the rest of the loop so it can connect to the chip).
The cheapest UHF transponders of which I am aware are 5.8 cents for an inlay from Invengo (see Invengo Debuts in the U.S. Market With 5.8-Cent Inlay). An inlay is the transponder mounted on a substrate. If you want to embed this in a label, that will more than double the cost.
In general, HF readers are cheaper than UHF readers. This is because HF readers have been around for a longer period of time and sell in higher volumes, and their components have been miniaturized onto chips that can be used on a single circuit board (there are UHF reader chips now, but they are relatively new). You can purchase HF modules for $200 to $300 apiece on the Internet, and UHF reader modules could reach similar prices as volumes ramp up.
I will say that low-cost hardware can be an obstacle to thinking about RFID correctly. The price of the hardware is irrelevant—what matters is the amount of value you can derive from the information that RFID systems provide. So if a tag costs a penny but delivers no value, it is not worth using.
In the case of the railroad industry, tags cost $200 apiece and readers cost $45,000 to install by the track (you need to run power to the interrogators, network them and protect them from the elements). Yet the railroad industry got a good return on that investment. As Curt Carrender says in a recent Expert View, “The only thing that matters is how much value the tag delivers” (see Focus on RFID’s Value, Not Tag Cost).
—Mark Roberti, Editor, RFID Journal
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