How to tell if you need an RFID, BLE, or Barcode asset tracking system

How to tell if you need an RFID, BLE, or Barcode asset tracking system

There are more ways to tag, track, and manage inventory now than ever before, which is a good thing. That makes the job of an asset or resource manager, however, more complicated. What do all these acronyms mean? How can I tell which system is the best fit for my needs? What if my needs change in three years?

Today’s modern business needs to track IT hardware, office resources, and a wide variety of equipment or inventory and, depending on the situation, could need a combination of asset tracking systems. The more commonly used systems are barcode, RFID, and Bluetooth low energy (BLE).

Each system is the right system for specific use cases. So how to know which you should use?

How to tell if barcode asset tracking is the right fit

Barcode tracking systems have been the standard for decades. Heavy-duty stickers last a long time, require no power usage at all, and are cheap to deploy to a wide range of types of assets – everything from laundry detergent to corporate laptops.

There are good reasons to use barcodes to track assets or inventory: small, simple assets that are directly handed by asset managers and users and kept in defined, secure areas – like an office building – can use barcodes very successfully to track and manage resources. But any IT department using barcodes to track technology assets will tell you there are limitations to using barcodes.

For example:

  • Barcodes are limited in how much and what type of data they can store. Even 2D barcodes are limited to a couple thousand characters are text data they can hold, and that data is read-only; it can’t be updated.
  • In order to read the data on a barcode, you need a scanner with direct line of sight of the code, usually within inches of it.
  • If the asset or resource you are tracking is not easily accessible by a person holding a barcode reader – for instance, is behind a wall or in a deep row of server cabinets – then barcoding is not going to work for you.

Passive RFID tracking toolsHow to tell if RFID asset tracking is the best choice

Passive RFID tags can be as cheap as barcode stickers and are as, if not more, durable. They differ from barcodes in a few important ways:

  • RFID tags can store more data, that data can be read/write, and that data can be encrypted.
  • Multiple RFID tags can be read at the same time, from a further distance, and without a direct line of site. The readers, which are more expensive than barcode scanners, must still be within a certain range of the RFID tags, which can vary depending on the type of reader. That range can, however, go through a wall or floor.

When you are not tracking the hand-off of an asset from one human being to another but instead monitoring the location and status of an asset contained in a large area or looking for a system to streamline your inventory process for assets that don’t move frequently, passive RFID tracking might be the right fit for your needs.

How to know if active RFID or BLE asset tracking makes sense for me

The key difference between passive and active RFID is passive receives radio waves from a reader and, powered by that, transmits information to the reader. Active RFID tags, on the other hand, have their own battery power source to continuously transmit data to a receiver.

This makes active a better fit for tracking assets or resources that are not in one physical location and potentially unreachable by a human with a reader. It also makes them the largest and most expensive type of tracking tag but allows for the broadest range of additional features – active RFID tags frequently have their own LED light, for example.

This type of tag is most familiar with logistics managers tracking high-value, large assets – vehicles, even ships on the ocean, for example.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) asset tracking systems use a type of active RFID tag that transmits its data using Bluetooth technology, which has its own unique advantages over other types of active RFID tags. For example, because of its low energy usage, the batteries powering BLE tags last months at a time. These are still more expensive than passive RFID tags, but they can leverage existing technology you already have at your disposal – any smart phone or tablet that has bluetooth enabled can run a program to read data transmitted from BLE tags.

For tracking high-value assets or resources over a larger geographical location – such as a hospital building instead of through a single chokepoint like an IT help desk – is the best application of this type of tracking technology.

So which asset tracking technology is best?

Ultimately, none of these technologies is objectively the best one – it entirely depends on the assets or resources being tracked, what information needs to be recorded, and what limitations exist on how that information is gathered.

That’s why Asset Vue takes a consultative approach to recommending and deploying tracking systems for our clients and why we’ve built our software to support hybrid solutions: passive RFID tags that also have barcodes on them, for example, to maximize the flexibility of the system for your stakeholders.

Interested in how a hybrid asset tracking system could help you?