Frequency, Range and Coupling
The most important differentiation criteria for RFID systems are the operating frequency of the reader, the physical coupling method and the range of the system. RFID systems are operated at widely differing frequencies, ranging from 135 kHz longwave to 5.8 GHz in the microwave range. Electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields are used for the physical coupling. Finally, the achievable range of the system varies from a few millimetres to above 15 m.

RFID systems with a very small range, typically in the region of up to 1 cm, are known as closecoupling systems. For operation the transponder must either be inserted into the reader or positioned upon a surface provided for this purpose. Close-coupling systems are coupled using both electric and magnetic fields and can theoretically be operated at any desired frequency between DC and 30 MHz because the operation of the transponder does not rely upon the radiation of fields. The close coupling between data carrier and reader also facilitates the provision of greater amounts of power and so even a microprocessor with nonoptimal power consumption, for example, can be operated. Close-coupling systems are primarily used in applications that are subject to strict security requirements, but do not require a large range. Examples are electronic door locking systems or contactless smart card systems with payment functions. Close coupling transponders are currently used exclusively as ID-1 format contactless smart cards (ISO 10536). However, the role of close coupling systems on the market is becoming less important.

Systems with write and read ranges of up to 1 m are known by the collective term of remote coupling systems. Almost all remote coupled systems are based upon an inductive (magnetic) coupling between reader and transponder. These systems are therefore also known as inductive radio systems. In addition there are also a few systems with capacitive (electric) coupling (Baddeley and Ruiz, 1998). At least 90% of all RFID systems currently sold are inductively coupled systems. For this reason there is now an enormous number of such systems on the market. There is also a series of standards that specify the technical parameters of transponder and reader for various standard applications, such as contactless smart cards, animal identification or industrial automation. These also include proximity coupling (ISO 14443, contactless smart cards)and vicinity coupling systems (ISO 15693, smart label and contactless smart cards). Frequencies below 135 kHz or 13.56 MHz are used as transmission frequencies. Some special applications (e.g. Eurobalise) are also operated at 27.125 MHz.

RFID systems with ranges significantly above 1 m are known as long-range systems. All longrange systems operate using electromagnetic waves in the UHF and microwave range. The vast majority of such systems are also known as backscatter systems due to their physical operating principle. In addition, there are also long-range systems using surface acoustic wave transponders in the microwave range. All these systems are operated at the UHF frequencies of 868 MHz (Europe) and 915 MHz (USA) and at the microwave frequencies of 2.5 GHz and 5.8 GHz. Typical ranges of 3 m can now be achieved using passive (battery-free) backscatter transponders, while ranges of 15 m and above can even be achieved using active (battery-supported) backscatter transponders. The battery of an active transponder, however, never provides the power for data transmission between transponder and reader, but serves exclusively to supply the microchip and for the retention of stored data. The power of the electromagnetic field received from the reader is the only power used for the data transmission between transponder and reader.

In order to avoid reference to a possibly erroneous range figure, this book uses only the terms inductively or capacitively coupled system and microwave system or backscatter system for classification.

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