How Does RFID + Barcode Work?

Maybe you’ve discovered how convenient radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is, and you’d like to start using it right away. The question is: What should you do with your barcode system?

Well, you could keep your barcode units in place while you transition to full RFID implementation. Or you could keep your barcode equipment indefinitely.

What’s the Difference?

Let’s look at how these technologies work. When someone aims a reader at a barcode, that device examines the barcode’s unique pattern. Some readers emit light or lasers and then analyze the reflection; others use light sensors or cameras to capture the design. For a barcode reader to work, the product must be in close proximity.

In an RFID system, each product has a special tag with digitized data. The RFID reader uses radio waves to send a message to one or more of those tags, and each tag immediately responds with product information. The reader can add up the costs of multiple items instantly and store purchase information in computer databases.

RFID tags can be either active or passive. Passive tags have no power of their own; they wait for an RFID reader to contact them. With active RFID, each tag has its own power source and can transmit location data and other information continuously. Passive tags usually have a range of about 3 feet or less, while the range of active tags can exceed 300 feet.

RFID is a more secure option. It can encrypt sensitive data and tell you when an item is being moved. In certain situations, it can even trip a security alarm. These tags are also more durable, and you can cover them in plastic for extra protection. They’re a good choice for hot, cold, wet or dusty environments.

Marrying the Technologies

You could always rely on both barcode labels + RFID tags. That’s what airports do. The International Air Transport Association requires RFID for baggage tracking. Nevertheless, some airports still depend on barcode readers to check boarding passes.

You might reserve your barcodes for certain processes, on lower-cost products or your external tracking if you supply products to other businesses, you could ship those items with barcodes. After all, barcodes are ubiquitous.

Meanwhile, you could use your RFID technology for:

  • Storing more complex data.
  • Checkout lines that require speedy service.
  • Tracking assets throughout a large complex or warehouse.
  • Verifying the locations of products.

With barcode + RFID mobile readers, your customer service and inventorying tasks should become simpler and easier to manage.