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RFID Readers

The types of devices used to read RFID tags have expanded in the last few years as RFID technology has gained in popularity. Older RFID readers have been expensive and limited in capabilities, but now the buyer has a number of choices:

  • "Agile readers" can read tags from several different frequency groups, and may have multiple options for transmitting the data off the reader to a system for processing.
  • "Dumb" readers do only simple reading, while "intelligent" readers may do some local storing and processing of the tag data.
  • "Reader collision avoidance" algorithms. "Reader collision" occurs when too many readers are in close proximity and interfere with each other. Most reader manufacturers have devised timing algorithms to deal with collisions, but it may still a problem in older or low-cost readers.

Some more innovative methods for reading tags include:
  • Cellphone readers - an add-on to certain cellphones which capture the RFID data into the phone for later uploading. These use the phone's display for feedback and interaction. The advantage here is that the omnipresent cellular network becomes the transmission link, allowing RFID tags to be read almost anywhere there is phone service.
  • PCMCIA-based readers for laptops and handhelds - these readers use the portable's power to provide the electromagnetic energy necessary to read the tags. An added benefit is that the reading application resides on the portable, eliminating the need to transmit it elsewhere for processing.

Whichever type and capability reader you choose, the primary consideration is that it is compatible with the tags you want to read. Tags operate on specific frequencies, and ISO, the standards body, has specifications defined for different standards and applications of tags. Tag frequencies are in three major groups:

  • Low frequency: 125 kHz and 134 kHz frequencies
  • Medium frequency: popular 13.56 MHz tags based on the ISO15693 and ISO14443 standards.
  • Medium frequency: 26.957 to 27.283 MHz, used for special applications
  • UHF (ultra high): 433 MHz, 868 - 870 (Europe only,) and 902 - 928 MHz

Many companies are working to produce readers compliant with the ISO 14443A and ISO 14443B standards for proximity tags (used, for instance, in medical identification cards).
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