What is RFID and how has it changed over the past 25 years?

Nov 24, 2021

What is RFID? 

RFID or Radiofrequency Identification, a technology first used in World War two is one of the fastest growing technologies in the world with an expected market of over 12 billion Dollars in 2021, but what is it really?

Well, these days, we use RFID every day without even knowing. Every time we get on a train, use our passports to board a flight, buy something in a shop or even go to a theme park, an RFID system is involved.

An explosion in innovation and popularity over the past 25 years has meant that they are used almost everywhere. From retail and warehousing, to tourism, transport, construction, healthcare and even athletics, RFID systems are making all our lives easier.

Put simply, an RFID system is just an automated way of tracking objects and assets. By using radio waves, they are able to uniquely identify, track and manage tagged items with just three parts: an RFID tag, an RFID reader and an antenna. In many ways it is similar to barcoding except for one big difference, an RFID tag doesn’t have to be right in front of a reader to be picked up.

This ground-breaking technology has many uses, even being used to help those who are visually impaired by maintaining ‘spatial orientation’ for users. It does this by understanding where the user is and even giving a description of their surroundings. But where did it begin?


RFID over the decades

The UK was the first to make use of an RFID system way back in 1945. During the second world war the military installed transmitters on planes which received signals from radar stations on the ground and broadcasted a signal back, identifying the aircraft as friend or foe and thus creating the first RFID system.

Although this innovative system was first used in the 1940’s, you’ll have to fast-forward almost two decades before the first ever actual RFID tag was invented in 1973 and even further until the 1980’s before they began to show up commercially.


Where was RFID first used?

The transport, manufacturing and livestock industries were the first to jump onboard, using them to tag railroad freight cars, create keyless entry systems, develop automatic highway toll collection, and even tag cattle and rare dog breeds.

Despite this, it wasn’t until the mid-1990’s that RFID entered business and technology mainstream. This coincided with a leap in innovation as UHF (Ultra-High Frequency) RFID was invented. Suddenly RFID systems were able to offer a 20-foot read range and faster data transfer making it far more attractive.

By the start of the 2000’s, RFID applications began to expand across the globe. Costs were coming down and innovation was improving. A big development around this time was item tagging which really helped growth in pharmaceutical and retail industries. High value and high-risk goods could be easily tracked helping with security, stock levels and more.

A few years later came RFID smart labels. These could be incorporated straight into your packaging labels making them quick to read, easily applied, unconstructive, disposable, and cheap. It also made item tagging easier and more effective than ever.


RFID in Retail

When it comes to retail, RFID has become a crucial aspect to many businesses. Some of the world’s largest retailers including Adidas, Decathlon, John Lewis, Tesco, River Island and M&S have all welcomed RFID into their organisations with impressive results, on average there has been an increase in sales of up to 5.5% and a decrease in stock holding of up to 13%. With the recent and sudden surge in eCommerce and mCommerce, it is expected that 50% of retail brands will be using RFID by 2025 and with an expected ROI of up to 200% in the retail industry, it is easy to see why.


Why use RFID systems?

Today, there is evidence of RFID everywhere.

RFID systems keep track of more than two million ancient manuscripts and books in the Vatican Library, it tracks and documents endangered animals, it gives access to music festivals, and even prevents shoplifting in major stores.

The reasons behind the use of RFID systems are simple, efficiency and security. RFID tags are not easy to manipulate, RFID systems are able to precisely track the volume, location and contents of transport and they are able to keep track of exactly what is on a business’s shelves. RFID systems have been able to offer a modern solution to high demands for information by sharing that information quickly, easily and reliably.


What is the future of RFID?

RFID technology has come a long way, reaching a highly complex level, giving its users enormous benefits and its demand has increased rapidly. From aerospace to logistics and even football, it is a fast-evolving market with a bright future.

As we look to the future of RFID the possibilities are as close as it gets to endless. NFC or Near Field Communication is a new brand of the RFID family which has already begun to make huge impacts on our lives. It has made the technology more adaptable and accessible, with even our smartphones starting to use it. Ever paid using contactless? That would be thanks to NFC.

Another hugely exciting opportunity through RFID technology is ‘smart packaging’ and ‘smart marketing’ which can be used to create a rewarding and successful customer experience. NFC tags can easily be put on products, giving customers the chance to scan the tags, find out more about the items, enter competitions and even reorder on the spot.


In summary

Although the underlying technology for RFID has existed since 1945, we have only recently begun to tap into its full potential. The beginning of the twenty-first century was a significant time for RFID systems and we are now beginning to embark on a new wave of innovation.


Get in touch with Coriel today to find out how RFID can help you.