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What are EPC and RFID tags

EPC is designed to identify every item uniquely. Recently, RFID tags are gaining popularity to track items. We look at the functionalities of EPC and RFID.

What is EPC

EPC identifies each product unit uniquely. EPC structure and standard is defined by EPC Global (A GS1 organization). EPC codes are used in RFID tags and make sure that RFID tags can be uniquely identified globally.


EPC number identifies any product unit or specific item uniquely. This is different from GTIN numbers as GTIN numbers are designed to identify the product not the specific units. For example, If there are 10 copies available of a book in a store, these will have same bar code but different EPC.

GTINs can however be converted into EPC called SGTIN (Serialized GTIN) by adding a serial number.

What is RFID tags

RFID tags are new revolutionary way to track products (and many others things). These can store much more information as compared to UPC or EAN bar codes and can be read by a reader kept at a distance.

When you buy a product with UPC bar code,  someone has to manually scan the bar code on products. This causes a bottleneck at billing counters and results in waiting time for the shoppers. RFID will change all this as RFID tags can be read by the scanner built into the gate. So, as you pass thru the gate, all the items will be automatically scanned and billed.

RFID technology so far has been predominantly used to track large items or animals. But this revolutionary technology is making way into retailing and merchandising as the technology evolves and cost of RFID tags go down.

RFID based tracking is becoming more common and can be seen in many areas such as credit cards, Passport (US is currently using it),  humans (To track Alzheimer patient for example).

How do RFID tags work

RFID tag provides a revolutionary way for the products to be tracked. Here is how the process works
  • RFID tags contain a microchip with information which can be read by the RFID reader.
  • Tag contains an antenna which receives electromagnetic waves from the reader’s antenna as the tag reaches the electromagnetic field of the antenna.
  • Tag sends the radio signal back to the reader.
  • Reader receives the signal and converts it into the meaningful information.

Read Only vs. Read Write vs. WORM RFID tags

RFID tags can be categorized based on what kind of read write functionalities they can provide.
  • In Read only tags, data can only be written when they are manufactured. After this, data can only be read.
  • In WORM (Write Once read many) tags, Tags can be written over once before putting in use (after manufacturing process), but can be read multiple times.
  • In Read-Write tags, Data can be overwritten many times. These tags will usually have some data that cannot be overwritten (such as serial number) where as other information can be manipulated. This provides ability of 2 way interactions with reader.

Active vs. Semi-Passive vs. Passive RFID tags

There are three types of RFID tags based on how power is used by these tags.

RFID tags need power for two basic functions: Receiving the signal from the reader and Sending the signal back to the reader.

How these two functions are powered decides the type of RFID tag.

Sending the signalReceiving the signal
ActiveUses internal battery for powerUses internal battery for power
Semi-PassiveUses internal battery for powerUses electromagnetic power received from reader for power
PassiveUses electromagnetic power received from reader for powerUses electromagnetic power received from reader for power


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