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Active vs Passive RFID Tags – Which is Suitable for your Application?

RFID tags can help in eliminating inefficient procedures. These tags are a great investment for businesses. The RFID technology is valuable to enterprises as it helps them track assets, equipment, and inventory. There are two types of RFID systems. These are the active Vs passive RFID tags. It is important to know the difference between active vs passive RFID tags. This helps to know which is suitable for a particular application.

The information provided in this article will help supply chain managers to have a broad knowledge of RFID technology and the differences between active vs passive RFID tags for some particular use cases.

What is RFID Tag?

There are several components that comprise the basic systems of RFID. The tag which is also known as radio tag is one of these components. This tag comprises an electronic chip for storing data, a reader for transmitting and receiving waves, and an antenna for communicating. Software and a computer are need for storing and analyzing data.  

Also, the RFID tag offers support for electronic identification. It comprises two primary elements, an electronic circuit that processes and stores the data and an antenna that receives the waves. The RFID tag may use a battery or no battery based on the type used. Batteries are needed in passive RFID tags. These batteries may help to emit wave or power the tag.

What is an Active RFID Tag?

Active RFID

This is a small device the broadcasts radio identifier code. An active RFID tag features a battery and an internal transmitter. Therefore, an active RFID tag can transmit signals to an RFID reader that is very far away based on the frequency level. Active RFID tags are available in beacon and transponder variants. The beacon sends a signal continuously while the transponder listens for any request from the reader and only transmits when it has to.

The transponder has a long battery life. Also, it helps in minimizing unwanted RF noise in the surroundings of other devices. Active RFID tags are widely used in businesses that want to track their equipment or assets. This is because of its ability to transmit signals to a reader from a far distance. Also, these tags can create a real-time location system that is accurate.

Businesses need an antenna, a reader, and an active tag when integrating an active RFID tag. An active RFID tag is fully equipped with a durable battery. Therefore, this allows the tag to send signals continuously.

Furthermore, an active RFID tag has the ability to interact with other active tags without an interrogator. This tag doesn’t communicate with passive RFID tags. Also, an active RFID tag can broadcast data using spread-spectrum or broadband technologies. When the active tag is in sleep mode, it makes use of small amount of power. Also, it doesn’t transmit data in its sleep mode.

 However, this tag awakens and sends its data when a specific signal is received. The Department of Defense in the US has been using the active RFID tag for several years now.

Pros and Cons of Active RFID System

Active RFID system requires a very high frequency that ranges between 433 MHz and 960 to function well. This makes it transmit data at a higher range and helps to read stored data on a tag from about 150 meters. Therefore, this makes the active RFID system an ideal choice for processes like inventory management, vehicle tolling, real-time location tracking, and asset management.

There are various active tags ideal for several business tasks. An active beacon can send data in every 5 seconds and an active transponder send data when a reader is within range. Also, active RFID systems function on different frequency levels.


Below are benefits of active RFID tags:

  • More advanced data capabilities
  • Functions within longer range and it can read data in distances of about 150 meters.
  • Great storage capacity and data memory
  • Weather-proof active labels
  • Rugged tag options


  • Active RFID tag’s battery needs replacement
  • It is more costly than passive RFID tags
  • It is sensitive to harsh environment
  • Causes radio noise
  • Requires interrogator to work

What is a Passive RFID Tag?


The passive RFID tag has no battery. It is commonly used in tracking systems and small-scale operations. Since this tag doesn’t have an internal source of power, an RFID scanner transmits the energy used in powering it.  Passive tags are much more ideal for businesses with large inventory of assets.

Also, passive RFID tags operate in a more straightforward pattern compared to active RFID tags. The passive RFID tags comprise an antenna linked to an IC. These tags receive a unique radio signal transmitted by the RFID reader and this signal powers the RFID tag. Passive RFID tags are less costly and complex compared to active tags. This is because passive RFID tags have no power sources at all.

Enterprises can incorporate passive RFID tags in cards, stickers and form factors produced largely at low cost. These tags are the best option for supply chain applications like asset tracking and inventory management. Also, these tags offer support to more radio ranges.

Pros and Cons of Passive RFID Tags

Passive RFID tags don’t send data continuously. These tags will only send data when a signal is received from an RFID reader. Radio frequency waves generated from the reader provide energy for a passive tag. These waves awaken the IC of the passive tag and send back a signal to the RFID system.

There are various types of passive RFID tags just like active tags. The hard tags and inlays are the two commonest types. The hard tags are usually made from materials like metal and plastic which makes them rugged. Therefore, hard tags are ideal for use in outdoor environment and unfavorable weather conditions. On the other hand, inlays offer the cheapest option for RFID system.

Pros of passive RFID tags

  • Long life expectancy
  • Lightweight and small
  • Cheaper than active tags
  • Provides various tag options
  • More flexible tags
  • Doesn’t contribute to radio noise


  • The microchip of the tag can only be powered by a reader
  • Features low signal range of about 5 meters
  • Needs interrogator to work
  • Has limited data storage

A low read range can be a benefit or limitation of a passive RFID tag based on its application. For instance, a low read range is beneficial when using a tag for access control card. In this case, you are confident no one can read your card from 25 feet away. Therefore, this guarantees the security of your card.

However, when a passive tag is integrated to tag a pallet in a supply chain, a low read range can be a setback.

What is the Difference Between Active vs Passive RFID Tags?

Passive RFID

The main difference between an active and passive RFID tag is the presence of battery. While an active RFID tag has a battery, a passive RFID tag doesn’t have. An active RFID tag has the capability to communicate at a longer range. However, the passive tag is a more preferred option because it is cheaper and offers a lot of options. Since you don’t need to replace batteries in passive tags, it is very cheap to maintain.

Although passive RFID tags may have a shorter read range, this helps in some cases. These tags play a crucial role when they are several tagged items and you are carrying out a rapid stock check. While an active RFID tag has an internal power source, a passive tag has no power source. Therefore, active tags can automatically broadcast their signal.  Passive tags can only transfer RFID signals when an RFID reader within their range sends a radio frequency.

There are several factors you need to put into consideration when choosing an RFID tag. An active RFID tag is capable of capturing supply chain data. Passive RFID is an ideal option when you don’t want to change batteries. For instance, they are ideal for use in livestock management.

An active RFID setup is capable of tracking the movement of assets around a facility. For instance, it can track medical equipment or specialized tools. Passive RFID is ideal for tagging products for inventory control.

Passive tags are used more often in RFID applications. Also, these tags are usually embedded in adhesive labels. Since they are cheaper than active tags, they are ideal for applications that don’t require you to reuse tags.

Active Vs Passive RFID – Parts and Functions

The functions and parts of active and passive RFID tags vary.  Passive RFID comprises three main parts which are RFID tags, RFID reader, and RFID antenna. This RFID can tag just two components which are microchip and antenna.

Furthermore, the passive RFID is categorized in different groups which include:

  • Materials: passive RFID tags can track metal assets by using metal-mount tags
  • Rugged: Passive RFID can resist varying weather conditions. For instance, some of these tags are ideal for use in outdoor environments.  Also, these tags can withstand debris, ice, dust, and snow.
  • Embeddable: Embeddable tags are ideal for items that are vulnerable to wear and tear.
  • Size: passive RFID systems vary in terms of their sizes. You can choose the smallest passive RFID system or the largest. However, some applications will determine the size you for as they have particular size constraints. You may need a large RFID card if you are tracking large items while small items may need a small RFID card.

On the other hand, there are two types of active RFID. These include beacons and transponders. Transponders make use of a reader and active tags. They first send a signal and the signal is sent back by the active transponder. An active RFID conserves the battery life once it is out of range. This makes the active RFID efficient. Also, active RFID transponders help in securing access control. Businesses integrate these transponders in toll booth payment systems.

Active beacon tags make use of beacons. These beacons keep sending data every 5 seconds. Also, these tags are commonly used in oil and gas industry. The beacon tags are suitable for cargo tracking and mining. You can set these tags to a very low transmit power.

Active vs Passive RFID – Range, Price, and Size

RFID tag

Active RFID can operate well in a distance as far as 150 meters. This RFID features a longer range compared to its counterpart. Passive RFID can perform well within 15 meters. Therefore, passive RFID is ideal for keycards.

Active RFID is available from medium to very large. On the other hand, passive RFID is available from very small to very large. Passive RFID systems are ideal for both outdoor and indoor settings. However, active RFID systems are only ideal for outdoor settings.

Internal battery systems are the power source of active RFID. Therefore, the active RFID need a battery to function. Radiofrequency waves power the passive RFID systems. Active RFID has a very small size. Therefore, they can be handheld. However, passive RFID is much smaller than active RFID. It is smaller than a business card. This is why the passive RFID tag is ideal for use in smart access cards and key cards.

The size of RFIDs also determines their prices. Active RFIDs are bigger. So, their price ranges between $20 and $30. However, the cost passive RFID systems are less than $1 per tag. Active vs passive RFID tags differ in terms of size, range, and price.


The difference between active Vs passive RFID tags are evident in their size, range, price, parts, functions, and applications. The requirement of your application will determine the type of RFID tags to go for. However, both passive and active RFID tags have their limitation and benefits. Therefore, it is important to weigh these benefits and limitations before choosing an RFID tag type for your application. Having read this article, you would be able to choose the suitable RFID tag type for your application.




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