Active Radio Frequency Identification

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What Does Active Radio Frequency Identification Mean?

Active radio frequency identification (RFID) is a wireless, automatic identification method, which uses self-powered tags to broadcast information about its identity and location. The battery powers the RFID circuitry and enables the active RFID tag to transmit identifying information, either by continuously beaconing to a tag reader, or when prompted to do so by a reader.


Active RFID tags are used to automatically identify, locate, track, monitor and protect assets, humans and animals.

Techopedia Explains Active Radio Frequency Identification

An active RFID can be programmed to send a signal on demand, or transmit at set intervals. The tags can also be activated to start transmitting at certain locations, or when a change in a sensed parameter is detected. The change could be in temperature, humidity or movement.

Active RFID systems operate at ultra-high frequencies and have long read ranges of up to 100 M. The devices have a memory capacity of 512 kb or more, which allows the active tag to store asset information that can be retrieved directly from the tag.

There are two different kinds of active RFID: transponders and beacons.

  • Active transponders only communicate after receiving an interrogating signal from a reader and are used for access control and toll booth payment systems.
  • Active beacons emit identifying information at preset intervals. They are widely used for real-time location systems (RTLS) in supply chains, shipping yards and more.

Advantages of active RFID include longer range, more data, higher data transmission rates, increased productivity, efficiency, security and visibility. However, it has some drawbacks such as high cost, short life, larger size and limited operating temperature range.

The cost and size of an active RFID varies depending on the battery life, memory, type of housing, and added value features such as integrated motion detectors, temperature sensors and telemetry interface.

Batteries are usually not replaceable and last for about five years, after which the tag is discarded.

Active RFID is used in a wide range of applications such as medical equipment, computer equipment, electronic test gear, containers and trailers in the transport industry as well as for locating people and items, facility access control, animal tracking, assembly line processes and more.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.