Comparison of RFID and BLE Positioning Technologies
Many effective geolocation solutions aimed at indoor navigation and positioning are available nowadays for modern businesses. The most popular ones are tracking using RFID and BLE technologies. Both systems are known as effective tools in the sphere of logistics and retailing but they have their peculiarities, benefits, and limitations.
What’s Radio-frequency identification?
The RFID positioning system is a combination of radar and radio broadcasting technology that is applied in many spheres of life, from healthcare to the fashion industry, from asset tracking to creating accounts – all these activities can be performed using RFID technology.
According to the application, the indoor positioning system using RFID can be divided into two types:
- Active – based on battery-powered sensors which are connected to different access points in the building and forward information to the cloud
- Passive – makes use of powerful low-frequency radiation towards a tag that absorbs energy and emits it back with lower power and higher frequency.
The Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology - positioning system that appeared only in 2009. The system operates using a signal that is transmitted by special beacons to the reader and then, after detecting the location, is directed to the web platform.
Comparison of technologies
For understanding the distinction between these two technologies, it’s necessary to consider their key criteria – availability, security, cost, and accuracy.
Availability for companies
RFID deployment requires tags, readers, reader management tools, and application software. Consequently, if you are thinking about implementing the program into your operation, in advance you need to plan and invest in the infrastructure - from the side of the sender (tag) and the receiver (reader). Originally, the non-compatibility of the technology with mobile devices requires special hardware to handle signals at certain frequencies.
BLE beacons, operating as signal transmitters, work from batteries and can be adjusted by the mobile application, which makes them portable and scalable. Since beacons can let smartphones perform the function of receivers, it allows considering them a highly available location tracking technology. However, the level of the battery charge of the installed beacons has to be checked regularly.
According to the definition, accuracy (range of operating) is a distance passed by a signal. This indicator depends on many factors: the configuration, power settings, and the environment where the infrastructure is deployed. Thus, in the open-air with fewer obstacles, Bluetooth signals can be of a wider range than inside a building with different surfaces
RFID accuracy can be affected by:
- Frequency – if the frequency is high, it is more sensitive to interference. Metal can reflect radio waves, while water can absorb them at ultra-high frequencies. Consequently, RFID tags are not employed for monitoring metal things or things with high water content.
- Tag antennas – most RFID tags have two antennas for eliminating 'blind spots'. Frequency range optimization of some tags is possible for increasing efficiency.
- Readers and scanning antennas – most RFID systems of the near field are less exposed to interference since they work in a shorter scanning range. RFID systems of the far-field, which can scan from up to some meters, very often encounter problems of a poor connection.
Radio beacons usually have an effective range from 1 to 70 m. But they are also exposed to interference since radio signals are absorbed by various things (metal surfaces, air, water, and human bodies). The working range of the beacon depends on the power of the broadcast signal. The more powerful the signal is, the bigger the range is and, thus, more mobile devices can receive the signal and turn it into data.
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Security and confidentiality
As RFID systems are closely connected with typical IP-network solutions, the communication between readers and the network is considered reliable and secure. Radiofrequency communication, appearing between tags and readers, can present the only real threat. In comparison with beacons, which only send a signal with an identifier, RFID sends data connected with the goods (EPC or electronic code). The most common types of data security threats are the following: fraudulent / cloned tags, non-authorized users and data intercept by a non-authorized device.
BLE beacons belong to detection tools that translate outgoing signals, so, while transmitting, there’s no risk for users’ security. But the BLE technology can be dangerous from the perspective of applications that use these signals. Users can face breaking into beacons but most equipment manufacturers have already taken measures to avoid such situations.
Navigine specializes in developing and implementing the systems of indoor navigation and positioning inside buildings. In our work we apply location tracking using both RFID and BLE technology, ensuring effective geolocation solutions for efficient business development.