Barcodes & QR Codes

What’s the Difference Between RFID and NFC?

A customer uses an NFC tag to pay her tab.

These days, emerging technologies like RFID tags, barcodes, and QR codes are used to make life easier for businesses and consumers. But recently, more and more people have been talking about NFC technology, otherwise known as “near field communication.” 

This article will dive deep into how NFC tags work, then help you understand the RFID vs. NFC difference. We’ll also explain how NFCs differ from barcodes and QR codes. 

 

What is NFC?

NFC, also known as “near field communication,” is a modern technology that allows communication and data sharing between nearby devices. The low-speed connection established by NFC tags requires the two devices to be no more than a few inches apart. 

If you use your smartphone to make contactless payments, enter your office building with a key card, or touch your phone to a router to instantly connect to WiFi, you’re probably already using NFC technology in your everyday life. NFC tags are also used for gaming and social networking. 

There are three modes of NFC technology, although not every NFC tag offers all three methods. These modes are:

  1. NFC card emulation—the device functions like a credit card or admission ticket
  2. NFC peer-to-peer—two devices communicate or share data 
  3. NFC reader/writer—the device interprets data on other NFC tags featured in “smart” posters, labels, and so on

 

How do NFC tags work?

An NFC tag emits radio waves that “turn on” the antenna in another extremely close receiver. That receiver then authenticates the information from the NFC tag, and an exchange of data is completed. 

Note that NFC tags don’t require a battery, and instead bootstrap power and connectivity from other devices, like a wired cash register or a cell phone. 

 

RFID vs. NFC

You’ve likely heard of RFID technology, also known as radio frequency identification. RFID technology is widespread, and every RFID tag contains a radio antenna and a microchip filled with important data. 

In inventory management, RFID tags are often used to track inventory as it moves and to discourage inventory shrinkage. Other uses for RFID tags include access badges, pet microchips, toll road transponders, and much more. 

Unlike NFC tags, RFID tags can communicate at much longer distances. That makes RFID tags better for lots of everyday actions, from driving through a toll at high speed to tracking inventory in a high-traffic retail store. 

That being said, NFC’s ultra-short range makes the technology even more secure. That’s why NFC tags are turning smartphones into digital wallets. If you tap your phone to pay for your morning coffee or bus fare, that’s likely NFC technology at work. 

To sum it up, RFID technology is a proven (albeit at times costly) way to track inventory, especially in settings where an extra level of surveillance is desirable. NFC is an up-and-coming technology that will streamline a lot of everyday processes—but inventory management isn’t likely to be one of them. 

Related: RFID vs. Barcodes for Inventory Management

 

NFC vs. barcode

A barcode is a visual representation of data, displayed as a one-of-kind combination of bars and spaces. You’ve seen them on everything from a bag of chips to medical equipment. 

Usually, a barcode is used to track inventory behind the scenes or assist during a transaction, such as a transfer or a sale. 

Some items, such as tickets to a concert or a sporting event, may have used barcode technology in the past. Now, more and more venues are using NFC technology to turn their customer’s phones into digital tickets. 

When it comes to inventory management or asset tracking, there’s no distinct upside to replacing a barcode with an NFC tag, since a barcode already offers instant access to relevant data with a quick scan from a barcode reader. 

Related: How Do I Barcode My Inventory?

 

NFC vs. QR code

A QR code is like a barcode, but able to store even more data. These “quick reference” codes are a two-dimensional image that can do everything from helping companies track inventory to offering consumers quick access to a website, product listing, or app. 

A QR code can only be activated by scanning it, usually with a smartphone camera. That action will take users to an app screen, a website link, or some other activation. But with an NFC code, the action is usually performed automatically. 

That’s great for making a payment or accessing a building, but not as helpful for other activities such as scanning a list of services or editing details about a product. That’s also why QR codes offer unmatched detail and precision when it comes to inventory management.

Related: What’s Better for Inventory Management: Barcodes or QR Codes?

 

Inventory management using emerging technologies 

While NFC is changing how we perform everyday tasks, it’s not likely to change how businesses track their inventory and assets. Tried-and-true methods like RFID, barcode, and QR code inventory systems remain the most powerful, efficient ways to automate inventory management today.

Retail businesses at risk of inventory shrinkage may decide to pay extra for an RFID inventory system. Still, most other companies choose the flexibility, affordability, and ease of a barcode or QR code inventory management system.

 

About Sortly

Sortly is a top-rated inventory management software solution that uses barcodes and QR codes to streamline even the most time-consuming inventory management practices. With Sortly, users can sync barcodes and QR codes already affixed to their products or generate custom barcodes and QR code labels to print and connect to their products. 

Once inventory is barcoded, users can shave hours off their inventory-related tasks, including checking items in and out, conducting quick searches, and performing end-of-year inventory audits

Curious if Sortly might be a fit for your business? Discover all Sortly has to offer with a free, two-week trial of our software.