To accurately conduct a bar code inventory of a warehouse, storeroom or shopping cart requires each product be transported and each bar code be placed before a scanning device.
Since bar coding is read-only technology, it is not capable of transmitting data to a reader. Instead, the data must be individually scanned. This is not true of RFID tags which can communicate data directly to a reader without concern for sight line or scanning speed.
An RFID system consists of an integrated circuit (microchip), an antenna and a transceiver (reader), and is available in two configurations: passive and active. In a passive system, the reader sends out a signal that creates a magnetic field. Through its antenna, the reader broadcasts the electromagnetic field, thereby creating a sensitive detection zone.
Once a passive RFID tag enters the detection area, its antenna is activated and it becomes engaged, receiving the signals of the reader. Basically, the microchip is empowered by the magnetic field and sends a signal to the reader acknowledging its presence. These signals are used to turn on the microchip's transmitter and thereby allow communication with the reader.
A passive system is a short distance relay system (ranging from one inch to a few feet). In turn, the reader can then transmit the captured data to an external system for subsequent processing.
In an active system, both the microchip and reader have onboard energy supply units and are capable of sending and receiving signals, thereby establishing a long distance range of interaction. Active RFID microchips normally possess read and write functionality, thereby allowing the microchip's data to be modified or rewritten. The memory size of an active chip varies depending on the application requirements. The read range for active microchips spans from several inches to more than 100 feet. Given the nature of most retail environments, including vending, a passive configuration is most appropriate.
Payment cards, contact and contactless, simultaneously
Contactless transactional media (e.g., credit card, debit card, flexible tag, mini-card or key chain fob) often are equipped for both contactless and contact processing. In other words, an RFID-enabled card typically appears to be a regular plastic card with the account holder's name and account number embossed on the front and a magnetic stripe containing encoded account information on the back. These features enable the card to gain flexibility in acceptance regardless of reader requirements.
Last year, MasterCard, Visa and American Express agreed to adopt a common contactless payment standard known as International Organization for Standardization (ISO) protocol 14443. The ISO 14443 specification for contactless RFID transactions incorporates short-range (4 inches or closer) proximity restrictions and requires the capacity to encrypt transactional data.
ISO 14443 stipulates the presence of encryption software to prevent wireless interception or data theft and is designed to enable the reader to read only one transaction media at a time. This feature enables communications between the transactional media and reader to be streamlined to provide faster transaction processing, making contactless payments ideal for environments where speed is of the essence, such as parking garages, vending machines, quick service restaurants and convenience stores.
From a technical perspective, ISO 14443 is described as a passive RFID-enabled system.
Passive RFID configuration
In a passive RFID configuration, the transaction media contains an embedded microchip and wire loop or miniature antenna. When the microchip is in close proximity to a reader, encrypted information is transmitted by the microchip to the reader.
Instead of swiping a magnetic stripe as is the practice in a contact reader, RFID-enabled media simply has to be close to a reader to exchange data.
When the payment media moves into proximity of the RFID reader, it is detectable within the magnetic field projected by the reader. Basically, power and data are transmitted from the reader by means of an electromagnetic field generated by the reader and emitted through its antenna to the matched antenna located on the transactional media.