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Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a broad term that covers a suite of different technologies. RFID systems, broadly speaking, use radio waves to identify objects remotely, so they can be tracked and managed more effectively. The RFID Professional Institute (RFIDPI) covers all types of RFID, including active systems, passive systems and chipless RFID technologies. Exams may also have questions related to alternatives to RFID that do not use radio waves, such as QR codes, ultrasound and infrared, because these are used for the same purpose as RFID but are more suitable for some applications.

The Associate-level certification covers all types of RFID and alternative technologies (which may be more suitable for specific applications). The goal of this exam is to demonstrate that the credential holder has an understanding of the different types of RFID and alternative systems and their applications.

The RFID Professional Institute Professional Certificate exam moves forward to where candidates are expected to have a good understanding of the more technical aspects of RFID and in particular the knowledge required to successfully deploy such systems.

See Get Certified for details of these certifications.

We are currently working on a Professional certification exam that will also cover the broad range of RFID and auto-ID technologies, but in greater depth. Future exams will focus on advanced skills covering specific technologies (see Types of Certifications).

Here is a brief description of the different types of RFID technologies covered by RFID Professional Institute certification exams:

Active RFID

Active RFID describes an RFID system where both the interrogator and the tag have their own power source and frequency reference to generate an RF field. It is called active as both the interrogator and tag actively generates its RF field. The tag’s energy source is usually a battery.

Active RFID at 433 MHz

ISO/IEC 18000-7 is a standard for active RFID in the 433 MHz frequency band. Applications using this standard may include. for example, vehicle or asset tracking, or container seal tags.

Passive RFID

Passive RFID describes an RFID system in which the tag does not have the capability of generating an RF field on its own. For passive RFID, communication from the tag to the interrogator is accomplished by modulating the received energy provided by the interrogator. This modulation can be detected in an RF field change by the interrogator.

For inductive systems (usually for frequencies less than 30 MHz), this is called load modulation, as the interrogator sees a load variation of the inductively coupled tag. For wave propagation systems (usually for frequencies greater than 30 MHz), this is called backscatter, as the interrogator sees a variation of the power reflected by the tag due to the modulation. Tags using their own energy source like a battery while maintaining the communication principle of passive RFID are usually called battery-assisted passive (BAP) RFID.

LF (Low Frequency)

Low-frequency tags have a long wave-length and are better able to penetrate certain “conductive” materials (e.g. thin metallic substances, or objects with high-water content, such as fruit or beverages). Typically the LF read range is limited to centimeters or inches.

ISO 11784/85, ISO 14223 and ISO/IEC 18000-2 are standards for the band

HF (High Frequency)

High-frequency tags work fairly well on objects made of metal and can work around goods with medium to high water content. Typically, HF RFID systems work in ranges of inches, but they can have a maximum read range of about 3 feet (-0.9 meter). Typical HF RFID applications include, but are not limited to, tracking library books, patient flow tracking and transit tickets.

ISO/IEC 14443

is the proximity smart card standard for 13.56 MHz. The communication range is usually less than 10 centimeters (3.9 inches), and applications include access, loyalty and government ID cards, as well as public transport.

ISO/IEC 15693

is the vicinity smart card standard for 13.56 MHz, while GS1 EPCglobal HF and ISO/IEC 18000 are the corresponding standards for item management. The communication range is usually up to 1 meter (3.3 feet), and applications include ski ticketing and libraries.

(Ultra High Frequency)

UHF frequencies typically offer much better read range—up to 20 meters (65.6 feet)—using wave-propagation (depending on the RFID system setup) and can transfer data faster (i.e. read many more tags per second) than low- and high-frequency solutions. However, because UHF radio waves have a shorter wavelength, their signal is more likely to be attenuated (or weakened) or have difficulty passing through metal or water. However, in some special applications, short-range inductive coupling is used for this frequency, thus avoiding the effects of wave attenuation around metal or water, as in HF tags.

Given their high data-transfer rate, UHF RFID tags are well suited for applications which require that many items be read simultaneously, such as boxes of goods as they pass through a dock door into a warehouse or marathon racers as they cross a finish line. Additionally, due to the longer read range of the tags and readers, other common UHF RFID applications include some electronic toll collection and parking access control.

GS1 EPCglobal Gen 2 and its twin, ISO/IEC 18000-63 Type C, are the most popular standards for passive RFID in the UHF frequency band from 860 to 960 MHz. Most applications benefit from the long communication distance of more than 10 meters (32.8 feet) based on wave propagation. Applications using these standards include supply chain management and asset tracking.


Near Field Communication (NFC) is a newer version of RFID based on the ISO/IEC 18092 and ISO/IEC 14443 HF standards. It operates at a maximum range of about 4 inches (10.2 centimeters) and can be set up for one- or two-way communications. NFC is similar to passive RFID due to its ability to read and write to passive smart tags. But in addition to passive read-write capabilities, NFC has two additional modes, both of which involve dynamic, two-way communication: card emulation and peer-to-peer (P2P). With NFC, both devices may initiate communication, wherein the initiator always becomes the interrogator. NFC-enabled mobile phones are such an example. They can behave like a tag, but also as an interrogator since they are able to read tags. In such a way, they can read tag information, store it on the mobile phone and emulate the tag thereafter.

ISO/IEC 18092 is the base standard for NFC. ISO/IEC 21451 is an extension and, as a result, NFC supports P2P communication, which is the key differentiator between NFC and pure passive RFID. But it also supports the reading of smart cards based on ISO/IEC 14443 Type A and Type B, ISO/IEC 15693 and a Japanese industry standard known as Felica. The communication range for all variants is typically less than 10 centimeters.

In addition to the above, NFC solutions have been developed and deployed using UHF passive tags. These tags follow the EPC Gen2 and ISO 18000-63 Type C standards, but use an antenna design that operates in the near-field, like HF tags. These tags may include a dual near-field and far-field antenna, simultaneously offering both good performance around metals and liquids, and long-range read performance (greater than 10 meters) on other materials.

Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS)

A real-time location system (RTLS) is typically an active RF technology that can detect a tag's current location and identifier. RTLS solutions are used in a variety of sectors, including, but not limited to, supply chain and logistics, health care, industrial, military, retail and recreation applications.

Increasing the number of interrogators increases location capabilities. Starting with a single interrogator, 1D distance measurements are possible. Three-dimensional (3D) positioning is usually performed with three or more interrogators. RTLS solutions are usually implemented using active tags with an internal power supply, though research is being done on systems with passive tags as well.

Currently, there are a variety of proprietary systems, some based on one or more of the following: Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11), ZigBee, infrared, ultrasound, ultra-wideband (UWB) and other various RF technologies. Also currently, several standards are published or under discussion:

ISO/IEC Standards

ISO/IEC 19762-5

defines Information technology AIDC techniques — Harmonized vocabulary, Part 5 — Locating systems.

ISO/IEC 24730

series is the RTLS standard in ISO/IEC. It covers different communication types.

  • ISO/IEC 24730-1 identifies the Application Program Interface (API). ISO/IEC 24730-2/-21/-22 covers 2.45 GHz band air interference protocol and ISO/IEC 24730-61/-62 the UWB (Ultra Wide Band). Typical applications are indoor localization with accuracy below 1 m and communication ranges exceeding 100 m.

  •  ISO/IEC DIS 24730-61:2012 (low rate pulse repetition) and -62:2012 (high rate pulse repetition) are the standards for UWB based RTLS.

  • ISO/IEC 24730-2:2012, -21:2012 and -22:2012 are the standards for DSSS (Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum) air interference protocol

  •  ISO/IEC 24730-5:2010 is the standard for CSS (Chirp Spread Spectrum) based RTLS in the 2.45 GHz band.

ANSI Standards

ANSI has standardized RTLS under ANSI/INCITS 371.

ETSI Standards

ETSI EN 302 500-1, Electromagnetic compatibility and Radio spectrum Matters (ERM); Short Range Devices (SRD) using Ultra Wide Band (UWB) technology; Location Tracking equipment operating in the frequency range from 6 GHz to 8, 5 GHz

  • Part 1: Technical characteristics and test methods

  • Part 2: Harmonized EN covering essential requirements of article 3.2 of the R&TTE Directive.

IEEE Standards

IEEE 802.15.4f, Active RFID. There is a wide variety of systems concepts and designs to provide real time locating, however not all comply under ISO/IEC 19762-5 and ISO/IEC 24730 series, or other standards (ANSI, ETSI, IEEE, etc.).


An Introduction to the RFID Professional Institute

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If you are an experienced RFID professional who would like to contribute your expertise to the Institute's examination materials then click here to find out more

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