Exploring the Difference Between IC Cards and RFID Cards

Exploring the Difference Between IC Cards and RFID Cards

Technology is supposed to make things easier for us, and that can happen with either integrated circuit (IC) cards or radio frequency identification (RFID) cards. These two types of cards are often used for access control, ticketing, and many other applications we often experience in our lives.

When you look at their applications, sometimes these two are interchangeable thanks to having similar capabilities. However, we also want to look at the differences and areas of applications so that you know which one works best for your needs.

What is an IC Card?

This type of smart card features an integrated circuit or embedded microchip for storing and processing data. You may sometimes find them called chip cards or chip and PIN cards.

The IC cards are mostly used for making payments, identification, access control, etc.

How IC Cards Work

These cards work by using the integrated circuit to process and store data. The microchip is made of silicone and attached to the card’s surface. It will store data such as personal identification details, account information, authentication codes, and application data as part of doing its job.

The cards communicate with the reader through either contact or contactless methods. The contact IC cards must be inserted into the card reader to establish a physical connection to transmit data.

As for contactless IC cards, they do not need physical contact as they have an antenna that uses RFID technology to communicate with the card readers. You must bring the card close to the reader, and the signal is picked.

IC cards also feature some good security features. This means they can protect the data stored on the chip. The common security features include encryption and authentication options such as PIN or biometric information.


Types of IC Cards

Types of IC Cards

The IC cards are available in many types depending on the application and purpose. The most common options are;

  1. Contact IC cards

These include smart cards and EMV cards. The name contact means these cards need a physical connection with the reader. They both have microchips essential for doing complex computations and data storage. Expect them to be useful for credit and debit cards, ID cards, and electronic passports.

  1. Contactless IC cards

These IC cards do not need to have a physical connection with the reader to work. Examples include RFID cards and NFC cards. So long as the cards are in close proximity to the reader, it is easy to get the information from them. The most common uses for such cards include contactless payment cards, inventory management, mobile payments, and more.

Applications of IC Cards

  • Payment cards such as credit and debit cards
  • Identification cards such as employee ID cards, healthcare ID cards, driver’s licenses
  • Access control to only allow authorized access to buildings and homes
  • Tall collection and transit cards
  • Health insurance cards
  • Retail and loyalty programs
  • Student ID cards

Pros and Cons of IC Cards


  • Enhanced security through encryption and authentication
  • Can store a significant amount of data
  • Easily customizable
  • Can help reduce fraud


  • More expensive than traditional magnetic stripe cards

Can have compatibility issues with some re


What is an RFID Card?

What is an RFID Card

An RFID card is a type of contactless smart card that utilizes radio frequency technology for communicating with card readers. These cards come with an RFID chip for processing data and an antenna for communicating wirelessly with the reader. That is why such cards are useful for tracking, access control, and identification.

How RFID Cards Work

RFID cards have an RFID chip, which gives it a unique identification number and also stores data depending on the card’s purpose. The chip responds to the reader’s request after the antenna has initiated the contact.

Unlike the contact IC cards, this one offers contactless operation, thus making it more convenient. Simply hold it close to the RFID reader so it can be easily processed.

The RFID cards mostly operate based on the frequency bands. Such bands also influence the capabilities of the RFID cards. The main frequency bands are low frequency (LF), high frequency (HF), and ultra-high-frequency (UHF).

Types of RFID Cards

When you come across RFID cards, expect to find them in two main options. They are either passive or active RFID cards.

  1. Passive RFID cards

The passive RFID cards lack a power source. This is because they are powered by the electromagnetic field the RFID reader generates. Because of such, these cards tend to have a limited range. They would mostly be used for access control and asset tracking.

  1. Active RFID cards

Active RFID cards feature their own power source, mostly a battery. The battery allows them to transmit the signals continuously over a longer distance. This means tracking a product with this kind of technology can be done in real-time.

Applications of RFID cards

  • Access control into buildings, rooms, parking lots, and more
  • Public transportation for making fare payments
  • Inventory and asset tracking in warehouses
  • Library cards
  • Payment cards

Pros and Cons of RFID Cards


  • Contactless operation
  • Quick and efficient
  • It can store an impressive amount of data
  • Great durability
  • Offers more versatility


  • A few security concerns with some types of RFID cards
  • Limited reading range mostly for passive RFID cards

The Differences Between IC Cards and RFID Cards

As much as these two types of cards seem the same, they have various differences that we look at below.

1. Technology and functionality

The IC cards feature an embedded chip for processing data and executing commands per the reader’s request. As for RFID cards, they would also have a chip, but its working is different. It works wirelessly since it is paired with an antenna, unlike the IC card, which may need contact with the reader, depending on the type.

2. Data storage

We find that IC cards can store a wide range of data, such as financial, application-specific, and personal information. This data is mostly encrypted so that the security is enhanced.

RFID cards will have a limited internal data storage capacity. However, they also feature a unique identification number that helps in maintaining the security of the data on the RFID card

3. Security features

IC cards have more advanced features, such as user authentication and encryption. It is often hard for unauthorized users to access or manipulate data stored on IC cards.

RFID cards may have limited options for security features. It largely depends on the chip manufacturer and operating frequency. This means that RFID cards may be susceptible to manipulation, so ask your supplier about these security features first.

4. Applications

IC cards are recommended for applications that need more data security and processing. That is why you find them commonly used as credit and debit cards, access control cards, and identification cards.

RFID cards can also work for similar applications as IC cards, but they are more suited for quick and convenient access or tracking something important. That is why they would work well for paying fares on transport systems, tracking inventory, and more.

5. Cost

IC cards will have a higher manufacturing and implementation cost than RFID cards. If you want something cost-effective where both cards can be used, then RFID cards should work quite well.


IC cards and RFID cards can share applications simply because they are good at their jobs. What is important is understanding where each can be applied to ensure the best results. IC cards are mostly for those who want more security and can store more data on the card. As for RFID cards, they are vital for applications that need speed and efficiency. They are also cost-effective.




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