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What Is RFID?

RFID stands for Radio-Frequency IDentification. The acronym refers to small electronic devices that consist of a small chip and an antenna. The chip typically is capable of carrying 2,000 bytes of data or less.

The RFID device serves the same purpose as a bar code or a magnetic strip on the back of a credit card or ATM card; it provides a unique identifier for that object. And, just as a bar code or magnetic strip must be scanned to get the information, the RFID device must be scanned to retrieve the identifying information.

How Does It Work?

A Radio-Frequency IDentification system has three parts:

  • A scanning antenna
  • A transceiver with a decoder to interpret the data
  • A transponder - the RFID tag - that has been programmed with information

The scanning antenna puts out radio-frequency signals in a relatively short range. The RF radiation does two things:

  • It provides a means of communicating with the transponder (the RFID tag) AND
  • It provides the RFID tag with the energy to communicate (in the case of passive RFID tags)

This is an absolutely key part of the technology; RFID tags used by SMS do not need to contain batteries, and can therefore remain usable for very long periods of time (maybe decades). They have also been specially designed to withstand treatment processes common to the wood utility pole industry, and are weather resistant across a wide temperature range.

When an RFID tag passes through the field of the scanning antenna, it detects the activation signal from the antenna. That "wakes up" the RFID chip, and it transmits the information on its microchip to be picked up by the scanning antenna.

RFID tags can be read in a wide variety of circumstances. The tag need not be on the surface of the object to be properly read, and the reader does not need a direct line of sight in order to function properly. The actual read time is typically less than 100 milliseconds with maximum read range distances commonly in the 5-6 foot range.