RFID vs Barcode

A question we are asked often: “When is RFID better than barcodes?”

RFID vs Barcodes: RFID is not necessarily better than barcodes. The two are different technologies and have different applications, which sometimes overlap. In many circumstances, RFID offers advantages over traditional barcodes. The big difference between the two is that barcodes are line-of-sight technology. That is, a scanner has to “see” the barcode to read it, which means people usually have to orient the barcode toward a scanner for it to be read.

One advantage of RFID is that the technology doesn’t require line of sight. RFID tags can be read as long as they are within range of a reader. Barcodes have other shortcomings as well. If a label is ripped or soiled or has fallen off, there is no way to scan the item, and standard barcodes identify only the manufacturer and product, not the unique item. For example, the barcode on one milk carton is the same as every other, making it impossible to identify which one might pass its expiration date first.

See the table below for a direct comparison of the two technologies.

Comparison of RFID & Barcode



Read Rate High throughput. Multiple (>100) tags can be read simultaneously. Very low throughput. Tags can only be read manually, one at a time.
Line of Sight Not required. Items can be oriented in any direction, as long as it is in the read range, and direct line of sight is never required. Definitely required. Scanner must physically see each item directly to scan, and items must be oriented in a very specific manner.
Human Capital Virtually none. Once up and running, the system is completely automated. Large requirements. Laborers must scan each tag.
Read/Write Capability More than just reading. Ability to read, write, modify, and update. Read only. Ability to read items and nothing else.
Durability High. Much better protected, and can even be internally attached, so it can be read in very harsh environments. Low. Easily damaged or removed; cannot be read if dirty or greasy.
Security High. Difficult to replicate. Data can be encrypted, password protected, or include a “kill” feature to remove data permanently, so information stored is much more secure. Low. Much easier to reproduce or counterfeit.
Event Triggering Capable. Can be used to trigger certain events (like door openings, alarms, etc.). Not capable. Cannot be used to trigger events.