RFID vs. Barcode

RFID vs. Barcode

Table of Contents

So what’s the difference between the two data collection tagging technologies?

While RFID and barcodes differ across many areas, they both have a common goal:  automate the process of managing assets.   RFID tags have many advantages over barcodes; however they have not completely replaced that technology.

RFID tags do not require a line of sight, where barcodes do.  RFID also offers greater read ranges and read rates over barcodes, which can only be manually scanned one at a time, making them very human labor intensive.  RFID tags have the ability to read, write, modify, and trigger events, while barcodes are always read only.  RFID tags are more durable than barcodes, so they can be read even in very harsh environments.  RFID tags offer high security options such as encryption, where barcodes are easily replicated.  They can be encrypted and are very difficult to replicate.

Although RFID tags are more expensive up front, their ROI can typically be realized in the first year, as end users experience a significant decrease in time spent inventorying IT assets, which results in them spending more time on other important initiatives.

Data Center managers have increasingly been turning to RFID to accelerate their return on DCIM tools and to automate the traditionally labor intensive asset audit process.  Many are seeing between a 10x and 15x savings in the time to audit their data centers and a significantly higher accuracy.

What is RFID?

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology is a wireless system that uses radio waves to read and write information on special product tags. Unlike barcodes, RFID tags do not require a direct line of sight to be scanned. Instead, a scanner moves in the general vicinity of the tags. The basic components of an RFID system are the RFID tag, reader, and antenna. RFID tags come in different shapes and sizes, and contain a chip that stores and transmits data. RFID readers emit radio waves and receive signals from the RFID tag.

RFID technology has many advantages over barcodes. For example, RFID tags store and transmit more data than barcodes, and are scanned from a greater distance. Additionally, RFID technology for asset tracking and asset management works more efficiently and accurately than barcodes. However, RFID technology is also more expensive than barcodes, and requires specialized equipment for effective use.

One example of how RFID technology can be used is in toll collection on highways. Many US cities use RFID tags to streamline toll collection for highway commuters. If a driver has a transponder affixed to their windshield, the scanner picks up the transponder and debits the driver’s toll account. RFID technology saves them from the hassle of stopping to pay for tolls at the window.

What is barcode?

A barcode is a machine-readable representation of data consisting of parallel lines with varying widths. It was invented in the 1950s and has since evolved to include two-dimensional shapes like QR codes. Barcodes are used for tracking and contain a unique product-identifiable code. 

They are commonly used in industries such as commerce, books management, postal management, warehouse management, banking, industry, agriculture, and transportation. When scanned, a barcode is translated into data for various purposes. Barcodes are durable, printable, and economical, making them a popular choice for product identification.

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For a deeper understanding of RFID types, read about Passive vs Active RFID Tags.


RFID vs. Barcodes: Which is Better for Your Organization’s Inventory Needs?

1. RFID vs Barcode: Accuracy

RFID technology offers superior accuracy in inventory tracking and management compared to barcodes. While barcodes require manual reading and are more prone to human errors, RFID can guarantee up to 99.9% inventory accuracy

Additionally, RFID tags store and share more information than barcode tags, allowing for better data leverage and automation of inventory management and sales cycles. However, special RFID tags are required when using metals and liquids. 

On the other hand, barcodes are accurate and rarely fail, with an error rate of one in 3 million (almost zero). Barcodes also work with the same accuracy regardless of the materials they are printed on. They are well-suited for single-product scanning without scanning nearby items. 

2. RFID vs Barcode: Cost

RFID tags are significantly more expensive than barcode labels, with a single RFID tag costing up to 10 times more than a barcode label. 

Additionally, RFID readers are about ten times more expensive than barcode scanners. The implementation of an RFID system is also more complex than that of a barcode system. Companies must invest in specialized hardware, such as RFID printers and readers, and software to manage the data collected. Ongoing expenses for RFID systems include maintenance and training costs for personnel using the technology.

However, while the initial investment for an RFID system may be higher, it provides potential cost savings and revenue generation opportunities. RFID technology improves inventory tracking efficiency, reduces labor costs, and improves accuracy. It can also elevate the customer experience by enabling faster and more accurate order fulfillment. 

3. RFID vs Barcode: Implementation

Implementing a barcode system is relatively straightforward and requires minimal hardware and software. First, you will need a barcode scanner and software to generate and print barcode labels. The software will allow you to assign unique codes to each item, and the scanner will read these codes to track the inventory. Challenges that may arise include ensuring that all items are labeled correctly and that the scanner is compatible with the software.

On the other hand, implementing an RFID system is more complex and requires specialized hardware and software. To get started, you will need RFID tags, readers, and software to manage the data collected by the readers. The tags can be attached to items or embedded in them, and the readers will scan the tags to track the inventory. Challenges that may arise include correctly placing readers to capture the tags, dealing with electronic interference, and ensuring that there is reader-compatible software.

4. RFID vs Barcode: Data storage

Both RFID and barcode data storage methods have their advantages and disadvantages. RFID tags can store more types and larger volumes of data than barcodes and can be scanned all at once, making retrieval faster. 

Barcodes are cost-efficient, simple to use, and offer high accuracy and reliability. However, they are limited in the information they can represent and are easy to forge. 

5. RFID vs Barcode: Efficiency

RFID and barcodes differ in terms of efficiency for inventory management. RFID is more efficient than barcoding because it can simultaneously scan multiple items. In comparison, barcoding physically requires a person to scan each item. RFID is more durable than barcodes, as it can handle exposure to sun and rain. Additionally, RFID provides greater security than barcodes. But, materials like metal or liquid can affect the signal in RFID implementations, and it can be more expensive to implement than barcoding.

Barcoding is less expensive, easy to understand, and still saves time and stress. Setting up a barcode inventory system takes a few minutes, whereas setting up an RFID system is a larger investment. While barcode scanners require a line of sight to scan each code individually, RFID scanners read multiple codes at once, which helps streamline operations. Barcode systems are sometimes more accurate but less durable and secure than RFID.

In situations where a business needs to track lots of inventory at once, RFID may be more efficient. For example, a warehouse with thousands of items that need to be tracked and managed would benefit from RFID technology. On the other hand, smaller businesses with fewer items to track may find that barcoding is more efficient and cost-effective. For instance, a small retail store can benefit from barcode technology as it is less expensive and easy to set up.

6. RFID vs Barcode: Scanning

Barcode scanning relies on optical lasers or images to track items, while RFID uses radio frequency. Barcode scanning is less expensive and more established, but it can be labor-intensive and requires a direct line of sight. 

RFID scanning is faster and more efficient, can read multiple tags at once, and requires little to no human intervention. However, RFID can be more expensive to implement and may face limitations due to interference from metals and liquids. 

Barcode labels are fixed, while RFID tags can be re-encoded with updated information. Barcode scanners are effective within a 50-foot range, while RFID scanners can be effective up to 300 feet. Typically range for barcodes is a few feet and RFID range is typically 10-30 feet. 

7. RFID vs Barcode: Tagging

RFID relies on radio frequency for tracking, while barcode scanners use images or optical lasers. Barcode scanners require a line of sight, while RFID readers don’t, which can save time. Barcodes are cost-efficient compared to RFID, but RFID can read data from a greater distance and quickly read data compared to barcodes. 

Some consider barcode precision equal to or better than RFID tags. RFID can read and write data, while barcodes can only read data. Barcode scanning technology typically requires human intervention, while RFID technology can be automatic. 

8. RFID vs Barcode: Interference

Barcode scanners primarily experience interference from obstructed, dirty, or torn barcodes. While RFID tags can still read after being smudged or obstructed, RFID interference primarily comes from metals and liquids. On-metal tags or container-level tracking can help minimize RFID interference. 

Conflicting radio waves and signals from multiple RFID tags or other RFID readers can make product identification difficult. In addition, metals and liquids can block or disperse radio waves, leading to failed or incorrect readings. Interference can impact inventory management by causing inaccurate readings, leading to incorrect inventory levels and stocking issues. 

For example, if an RFID reader cannot read a tag due to interference from metal shelving, the inventory count may be inaccurate, leading to stockouts or overstocking. Barcode interference can also lead to inaccurate inventory counts if the scanner cannot properly read the barcode. 

9. RFID vs Barcode: Durability

In inventory management, barcode technology is generally more durable than RFID technology. Barcode labels asset tags can withstand harsh indoor and outdoor environments. They resist exposure to extreme cold, heat, and UV and are highly resistant to chemicals, abrasion, and solvents. Barcodes are also not affected by the material or contents of the items they’re affixed to, making them more reliable than RFID tags. 

RFID tags require specific tags to prevent interference from materials like metal or liquids and can be affected by reader and tag collisions. Additionally, RFID tags are more expensive to implement than barcodes because of computerized chip costs and different tags based on the tracked materials. 

10. RFID vs Barcode: Reliability

While both RFID and barcode technologies are commonly used in inventory management, RFID is a more reliable option. With RFID, the data is encryptable and is difficult to replicate, providing better security than barcodes. RFID tags read data from a greater distance and maintain a product’s history of maintenance and expiry dates. Additionally, RFID automates inventory management and item tracking, allowing for better access to higher-quality data and improved optimization of sales cycles.

On the other hand, barcode technology has limitations like the need for line-of-sight scanning and the risk of human error. Barcodes are also less durable and secure than RFID and cannot scan multiple items simultaneously. While barcode systems can sometimes be more accurate, a study comparing the use of RFID and barcode in the same environment confirmed that RFID guarantees more consistent results. 

11. RFID vs Barcode: Lifecycle data

Both RFID and barcode systems capture and store data about assets and products. Barcode systems use to print labels with a unique code. Then, a reader scans the labels to retrieve data from a database. In contrast, RFID systems use a tag with a microchip and antenna that scan wirelessly using radio frequency technology. 

This allows for faster and more efficient data capture, as tags simultaneously read without requiring a line of sight. RFID tags also can store more data than barcodes. The captured data is stored in a database and can be accessed or shared via online platforms. When retrieving data, barcodes must be scanned one at a time, while RFID tags can be scanned all at once. 

12. RFID vs Barcode: Use cases

RFID and barcodes are commonly used in inventory management for identifying, tracking, and counting supply chain assets. RFID tags can track the location of many products at once. They are ideal when several items must be scanned within a particular range. On the other hand, barcodes are better suited for picking and packing because they are more cost-effective than RFID tags. 

However, both technologies are useful in various parts of the supply chain, such as receiving and storing products, inventory management, and stock level checks. Barcodes can be applied to outer cartons and pallets, while RFID tags can be applied to materials-handling equipment, shipping containers, and other assets. 

13. RFID vs Barcode: RFID tag statistics

According to research, the global RFID market will reach $17.4 billion by 2026, indicating an estimated growth of 10.2%. While RFID and barcoding aim to solve similar asset management problems, RFID tags offer several benefits over barcodes. Regarding accuracy, RFID tags provide precision equivalent to or even better than barcode tags. Additionally, RFID tags read data from a greater distance of 10-30 feet, compared to barcodes which read from a few inches to a few feet away. 

Although RFID tags tend to be more expensive, they can save organizations money in the long run through improved accuracy and efficiency in inventory management. However, it’s important to note that barcodes are still widely used and remain cost-efficient compared to RFID technology. Current estimations indicate that around 50% of organizations have adopted RFID technology for inventory management.

14. RFID vs Barcode: Benefits

RFID and barcodes are both used for inventory management, but each has its own set of advantages. RFID can track items in real-time, which improves inventory accuracy and efficiency. RFID can automate inventory management processes, reducing the need for manual labor. 

On the other hand, barcodes are affordable and easy to implement, making them a popular choice for smaller businesses. Barcodes still save businesses time and stress while improving inventory accuracy. For example, a retail store that uses barcodes to scan items at the cash register can reduce the time customers spend in line. 

15. RFID vs Barcode: Drawbacks

Both RFID and barcodes have their limitations when it comes to inventory management. RFID’s main drawback is that it is more expensive than barcodes. Conflicting radio waves and signals from multiple RFID tags or readers can make product identification difficult. Materials like metal and liquid can impact its signal and lead to failed or incorrect readings. 

On the other hand, barcodes must be visible and scanned one by one, which can be time-consuming for larger inventories. Barcodes are also easy to forge, which can compromise security. 

16. RFID vs Barcode: Verdict

RFID and barcode technologies track assets and store item information but have differences. RFID can simultaneously scan multiple items, while barcoding requires a person to physically scan each item. However, RFID is expensive and may not be a good fit for many companies, while barcoding is inexpensive and easy to understand. 

If you work with tracking tools, while weighing RFID vs barcode, consider how each technology can enhance tool inventory software for different business needs.

While barcodes are cost-effective and simple, RFID offers greater data storage, durability, and efficiency in tracking multiple items simultaneously without line-of-sight constraints. The choice between RFID and barcode should be based on specific business needs, considering factors like environment, type of assets, and the level of detail required in tracking.


Choosing between the two technologies depends on a company’s unique needs, restraints, and resources. For high-value assets, RFID may be the better choice, while mobile barcoding may be better for traditional inventory.

Factors Barcodes RFID
Technology Uses images or optical lasers Depends on radio frequency for tracking
Line of sight Requires a line of sight Does not require a line of sight
Read rate Reads one at a time Reads multiple codes at once
Reusability Typically single-use Can be embedded within a barcoded label for single-use or more durable and reusable
Interference sources Obstructed, dirty, or torn barcodes Metals and liquids
Read/write capabilities Fixed data Data can be changed by re-encoding the tag with updated information
Tracking range Effective within 50-foot range Effective up to 300 feet
Human involvement Requires human intervention Can be automatic, requiring little to no human intervention
Security Data is always readable and easily counterfeited Data is more secure and can be encrypted, making it difficult to replicate
Accuracy Can be more accurate Can avoid scanning the same item twice
Cost Very cost-efficient More expensive
Durability Less durable and secure Sturdier and more reusable