I want to clarify that what is exposed below is simply a compilation (copy and paste) of the information collected on the internet to put my mind in order. The pages from where I have extracted the information are listed in the reference section below.
WHAT SHOULD I USE?
To evaluate the different factors that will lead us to choose between RFID and iBeacon we are going to take into account the accessibility (the ability of the technology to be accessed by a consumer), range (distance that the signal travels), accuracy (reliability and tolerance), security and cost.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is the wireless non-contact use of radio frequency waves to transfer data. Tagging items with RFID tags allow users to automatically and uniquely identify and track inventory and assets. RFID takes barcode technology to the next level by allowing tags to be read without line of sight and, depending on the type of RFID, having a wide read range.
A tag, in a passive RFID system, is a little transceiver waiting to be turned on. The tag has a small computer chip (or memory area) that is programmed with information that uniquely identifies the tag. This information is sent when the tag is activated (turned on).
A passive RFID transponder does not contain its own power source; rather, it absorbs energy propagated from a reader antenna’s radio frequency (RF) field to supply all the power it needs to wake up its chip and communicate with a reader by sending back (backscattering) the information contained in its memory to a receiving antenna. As tags move into an antenna’s radio field, they are excited, and each one transmits its identification data.
When it comes to RFID systems, the only real security threat lies in the RF communication that happens between the tags and readers. Primarily because unlike beacons that simply send a signal with a beacon identifier effectively saying “I’m here!”, RFID actually transmits data related to the product
At the same time, if a business calls for asset tracking at the large object level (e.g. equipment or cargo containers), beacons could be more cost-effective when compared to RFID systems. Also, while the cost of an Active RFID tag is about at par with a beacon it calls for a more expensive investment on the reader infrastructure side. A single reader may cost up to $1,500 whereas almost all smartphones in the market can act as readers in the case of beacons.
While RFID makes it possible to identify up to 1000 tags per second at nearly 100% read rates, its accuracy varies based on a number of factors,
- Frequency: The higher the frequency, the more sensitive it is to interference.
- Tag antennas: Most RFID tags come with dual antennas to eliminate ‘dead zones’ related to the orientation of the tag
- Readers and Reader Antennas: In this case, most near-field RFID systems are less subjective to interference as they operate at a shorter read-range while far-field RFID systems that can read up to several meters often face weaker communication issues.
Since RFID systems are closely tied to standard IP network security solutions, any IP communication between RFID readers and the network is very secure.
The cost associated with RFID solutions depends on the kind of solution (the type of tag – low frequency, high frequency or ultra-high frequency tags and type of reader) you are planning on implementing.
Deploying an RFID system requires a number of different components.
In a basic RFID system, four fundamental components are required:
- A transponder (a tag) that is programmed with information that uniquely identifies itself.
- A transceiver (a reader) to handle radio communication through the antennas and pass tag information to the outside world
- An antenna attached to the reader to communicate with transponders
- A reader interface layer, which compresses thousands of tag signals into a single identification and also acts as a conduit between the RFID hardware elements to the client’s application software systems
RFID systems can be susceptible to certain materials and environmental factors that can cause diminished read ranges and affect overall system accuracy. Metal and liquids are the two most common sources of interference for RFID applications, but they can be mitigated with the proper RFID tags, equipment, and planning.
Beacons are transmitters that broadcast signals at set intervals so that smart devices within its proximity are able to listen for these signals and react accordingly. They run off of Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) wireless technology.
BLE communication comprises of advertisements of small packets of data which are broadcast at regular intervals through radio waves. BLE broadcasting is a one-way communication method; it simply advertises its packets of data. These packets of data can then be picked up by smart devices nearby and then be used to trigger things like push messages, app actions, and prompts on the smart device.
iBeacon hardware does not determine the location of a smartphone. It is merely a Bluetooth transmitter. Compatible apps on iOS devices scan for iBeacon signals and display the corresponding notification on the lock screen.
In the case of a BLE location system, beacons function as signal transmitters that are majorly battery-powered and can be configured with the help of a mobile app. This makes them scalable and highly portable. Adding on to that, the capability of beacons to allow smartphones to primarily act as the receivers makes it a highly accessible location technology. Beacons typically have a wireless range of 1m to 70 m.
Since beacons are primarily detection devices that broadcast outbound signals, there is no inherent security risk in the transmission.
The main costs associated with a beacon system are:
- Beacon hardware (including the cost of deployment) – While beacons by themselves are relatively cheap (a typical beacon would cost you anywhere between $10 to $70), the number of beacons required depends on the size of the space and range required.
- Licensing/data service costs – This is typically dependent on the volume of interactions being processed.
- App and integration costs
Beacons once installed need to be checked regularly for battery levels, etc.
As a matter of fact, the risk actually lies in the apps that use these signals. In this sense, beacons are no better or worse than any other location service communicating via a mobile device.
Beacons being radio transmitters are prone to suffer from interference, as radio signals can be absorbed by different media, such as water, air, human bodies or even metallic surfaces.
Another important thing to note here is that the beacon range is dependent on ‘broadcasting signal power’. Higher the broadcasting signal power, greater the range at which mobile devices will be able to pick up the signal and convert it into information.