What's the Difference Between NFC and RFID?

Lauren Taylor on 11/2/16 4:57 PM


rfid-wristband-in-event.jpgEven if your event marketing budget does not allow for various experiential and forward-thinking technologies, tech still likely plays a big role in your event planning, management, check-in and analytics processes.

While some in-event technologies are used for their ability to “wow” attendees as innovative engagement tools, others are more ubiquitous because they play an integral role in allowing event marketers to streamline the event-planning process and capture the ever-elusive in-event data.

NFC and RFID are two of the technologies that event marketers and planners likely encounter on a frequent basis, but many have difficulty distinguishing between the two or understanding the difference in their respective use cases. But we’re here to help—keep reading to learn how the two closely-related technologies differ, and how marketers are using them in their events.

RFID (radio frequency identification)

RFID refers to several technologies that enable communication between a tag and a reader. There are two types of RFID tags: active and passive.

  • Active RFID tags have their own power source and have the ability to broadcast over a relatively large distance, usually up to 100 meters. 

  • Passive RFID tags do not have their own power source, and instead must come into very close contact (from direct contact up to 25 meters, depending on the chip’s frequency) with the reader in order for the technology to work. 

NFC (near field communication)

NFC is very closely related to passive RFID—the reader and the card must come into very close contact in order for them to interact or communicate with each other. The major difference between passive RFID and NFC, however, is that the NFC chip can act as both a reader and a tag, whereas RFID chips can serve as only one or the other. NFC-enabled smartphones, for example, can share information with each other (each act as both a tag and a reader), but this type of communication would not be possible with RFID technology.

Using NFC and RFID in events

rfid-in-event.jpgIf an event is equipped with active RFID, attendees do not have to have to “opt in” for the technology to work. As long as they have the RFID-enabled wearable technology (provided by the event) on their person, event organizers have the ability to track how many people move through their venue, and are also able to see where those people are spending their time. This information can be valuable for marketers: by using the “heat map” of attendee foot traffic and tracking the demographics of their guests, marketers can determine which of their products or services are most popular with the different segments of their target audience. Active RFID can also be used for asset tracking and inventory management while on site. 

Active RFID technology, however, is substantially more expensive than both passive RFID and NFC. Because passive RFID and NFC technologies are relatively similar, they have some overlapping use cases. Both, for example, can be used for access control to help streamline check-in processes and ensure that only registered guests gain access.

There are also more creative and customized use cases in which either passive RFID or NFC would work. The Ryder Cup, for example, used passive RFID wristbands to encourage attendees to walk the course and check in at different stations for a chance to win a prize. This use case, however, could also work with NFC.

But there are other uses cases in which only NFC could work. An advantage that comes with using NFC is that almost all smartphones have NFC readers built into them. So, if you were to host an event in which you wanted attendees to have the option to download various types of content to their phones, NFC technology would allow for this while RFID would not.

nfc-badge-in-event.jpgBecause all NFC-enabled devices (including smartphones) can act as both a card and a reader, NFC also allows attendees to exchange information with each other by simply tapping their phones together, a functionality might be more useful for some events than for others. For example, if you were to host an event specifically to help support your organization’s sales efforts (like a roadshow), NFC technology would allow your sales reps to tap their phone with a prospect’s phone to easily exchange contact information. And because NFC tags also have enough memory to store a lot of information without internet backup, the technology is also well-suited to work with notoriously faulty in-event WiFi connections. Keep in mind, however, that not all smartphones are equipped with NFC tags.

Although both RFID and NFC have similar functionalities and allow event marketers to make their events more data-driven and engaging, one type of technology might serve your event better than another, depending on your event’s specific objectives. When considering either NFC or RFID for your event, be sure to keep your event’s objectives in mind and remember that the similar technologies might not be able to serve you in the same way.

Want more tips for hosting successful events? Download our eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Successful Events
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Event pros, how have you used either RFID or NFC at your events? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us @eventfarm!


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