Active RFID vs. Passive RFID: What’s the Difference?

Passive RFID What's the Difference

Radio Frequency Identification or RFID technology has revolutionized the way people manage assets, inventory, access control, and so much more. Such a reliable way of identification has made more people interested in using such technology in their daily lives.

As much as RFID technology is great, you must know which one to use. The two main options are active RFID and passive RFID. This guide exists to help you learn more about the difference between the two and how best to use them in various fields.

Active RFID

The term active in this case means that the devices with the RFID technology also feature a power source. As such they will be broadcasting signals to the RFID readers at any time.

This is the main difference from passive RFID devices as for them, they lack a power source and can only be read with the reader in their proximity.

Key features

  • Active RFID features its own power source, which are typically batteries. The power source means they can emit strong and continous signals. As such, they are ideal for real-time tracking activities.
  • The active RFID tags will have a longer read range than passive RFID tags. On average, they can transmit over 100 meters, which is good for tracking objects in large areas.
  • Looking at the cost, expect to pay more for the passive RFID systems. Since the systems are complicated and there is a need for batteries, this adds to the price of the RFID tag.
  • The active RFID tags are expected to be larger and bulkier than the passive counterparts. This is because you also get a battery and other components. Note that the size may vary depending on the application.


Active RFID technology will easily get applications in many industries thanks to having unique features. The first application is real-time tracking of vehicles, people, and assets. A good example is when the technology is used in monitoring the movement of high value cargo ensuring there is proper security and delivery is done on time.

Inventory management is also another vital role of active RFID. retailers can easily scan to know where the products are in a large warehouse. This can save on time and get the product that a client wants fast.

Asset tracking in many organizations also requires the use of active RFID. This may help reduce chances of loss or theft. You generally end up with enhanced asset utilization.


  • Long range
  • Reliable
  • Real-time tracking
  • Advanced features


  • Higher cost
  • Large tag size
  • Needs battery maintenance

Passive RFID

Passive RFID is another type of RFID technology which does not have its own source of power. It relies on the electromagentic waves or signals emitted by the RFID readers to activate it and transmit the requested data to the RFID reader. Since there are no batteries to power such tags, they are usually smaller, less complex, and lighter.

Key features

  • As already mentioned, these systems do not have their own power sources. They rely on the waves or signals coming from the RFID readers to activate them.
  • Usually, you can expect the read range to be shorter. You may be limted to only a few meters. The range is mostly based on the frequency of transmission and the reader’s power.
  • The passive RFIDs are more cost-effective than the active versions. Since there are no batteries needed to power them, it becomes cheaper to acquire them.
  • Expect that the tag size will be smaller and compact than active RFID tags. Also, it is easier to incoporate them into various form factors included embedded microchips and adhesive labels.


Even though the passive RFIDs are limited in terms of range, there is so much they can do. That is why you may get them quite common in many applications. Expect them as part of access control application. This is where you can now have keyless entry into buildings or secure areas.

Retail systems can also benefit from such type of technology. The passive RFID tags can be used to manage inventory and minimize theft in the store. This is because it enables quick scanning of various products.

Companies may also consider using passive RFID wristbands for events and concerts. These RFID devices are mostly passive, but can help in quickly ushering in the atendees into an event space without a problem.


  • Cost-effective
  • Small form factor
  • No batteries needed


  • Limited range
  • Depends on reader power
  • May experience interference easily

Choosing The Right RFID System

Choosing The Right RFID System

Now that you have a better understanding of active and passive RFID, which one would you choose? The choice often depends on the user. Sometimes an application might demand for the use of active RFID, while other times passive RFID will do fine. Below are some factors to consider to help you choose the right option.

  1. Range requirements:What is the distance you would like the RFID option to cover? In case you want a longer range, active RFID can do a better job.
  2. Budget: Each project has a budget and you would also have one for your application. If you have a limited budget, you may want to consider the passive RFID as they are more cost effective and can still do the job quite well.
  3. Real-time tracking:There are times you may need to track something in real-time around a facility or warehouse. In such a case, active RFID which contnually emits a signal will be the right pick.
  4. Battery needs: With active RFID, there is the part you have to watch out for the battery maintenance needs. This may increase the operating costs, and it is something you should take into considerations before purchasing.
  5. Scalability:You may have to consider if there is a chance of expanding in the future and if the chosen technology can hold up. For large scale operations, use active RFID as it can help manage a bigger operation.


RFID technology keeps growing and new applications are always coming up. It is expected that both active and passive RFID technologies will have many uses across multiple industries. It is up to you to indentify what works best for you and implement it. Companies such as JLTcard may help with understanding which is the best choice for your business and still supply you with the right devices for the job.

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