RFID and barcodes are similar in that they are both data collection technologies, meaning they automate the process of collecting data. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is not necessarily better than bar codes. However, they also differ significantly in many areas. Although this comparison primarily focuses on the advantages of RFID over barcodes, RFID will not completely replace barcode technology. Barcodes offer some advantages over RFID, most notably their low cost.

However, in many circumstances, RFID offers advantages over traditional barcodes. In fact, in many instances the use of both technologies together can yield the greatest ROI for an end user.

  RFID Barcode
Technology RF (Radio Frequency) Optical (Laser)
Read/Write Capability More than just reading. Ability to read, write, modify, and update. Read only. Ability to read items and nothing else.
Read Rate High throughput. Multiple (>100) tags can be read simultaneously. Very low throughput. Tags can only be read manually, one at a time.
Read Range Passive UHF RFID:
   – Up to 40 feet (fixed readers)

   – Up to 20 feet (handheld readers)
Active RFID:
   – Up to 100’s of feet or more
Several inches up to several feet
Durability High. Much better protected, and can even be internally attached, so it can be read through very harsh environments. Low. Easily damaged or removed; cannot be read if dirty or greasy.
Line of Sight Not required. Items can be oriented in any direction, as long as it is in the read range, and direct line of sight is never required. Definitely required. Scanner must physically see each item directly to scan, and items must be oriented in a very specific manner.
Human Capital Virtually none. Once up and running, the system is completely automated. Large requirements. Laborers must scan each tag.
Security High. Difficult to replicate. Data can be encrypted, password protected, or include a “kill” feature to remove data permanently, so information stored is much more secure. Low. Much easier to reproduce or counterfeit.
Event Triggering Capable. Can be used to trigger certain events (like door openings, alarms, etc.). Not capable. Cannot be used to trigger events.
Interference Like the TSA (Transportation Security Administration), some RFID frequencies don’t like Metal and Liquids. They can interfere with some RF Frequencies. Obstructed barcodes cannot be read (dirt covering barcode, torn barcode, etc.)
Automation Most “fixed” readers don’t require human involement to collect data (automated) Most barcode scanners require a human to operate (labor intensive)