What are “smartcards” and RFID cards for employees?

id card with rfid

We are often asked to explain the various technology choices for employee ID badges. There are many kinds of “auto-identification” technologies that have been integrated in ID cards over the last twenty or thirty years. The most common of these are barcodes and magnetic stripes, which serve the essential purpose of generating machine-readable code that can be linked to the cardholder. Smartcards and RFID provide similar capabilities, but with a number of advantages over the “classic” tools many businesses use.

What Are Smartcards and RFID?

The essential role of smartcards and RFID is to allow a digital device (generally known as a “reader”) to pick up a unique piece of information from the card, which creates a linkage between the cardholder and the service being requested. 

A smartcard device with an embedded integrated circuit connects to a reader either via a remote radio frequency interface or direct physical contact. Smartcards have the ability to store large amounts of data, carry out their own functions, and interact with smart card readers. 

RFID is another type of function and stands for Radio Frequency Identification, which is a type of wireless communication that incorporates electrostatic coupling to identify an object. RFID dates all the way back to the 1940s but increased in use in the 1970s. RFIDs are being used as alternatives to barcodes. 

Barcodes are common practice in modern industry, but barcodes can be limited in their scope. For example, barcodes require a direct line of sight or closer proximity for scanning. RFID tags can scan items away from the direct line of sight and from a greater distance. 

While both smartcards and RFID are fantastic alternatives to barcodes, both are slightly different. While RFID is present in smartcards, there can be some misconceptions about contactless smartcard technology and RFID. Contactless smartcards tend to operate at a shorter range, approximately less than 4 inches and are predominantly used to support security capabilities. RFID is predominantly used over long ranges, lending itself to use in industries such as manufacturing or for purposes such as inventory control.

When choosing the RFID technology, there are a number of guidelines and specifications, with the main standards organizations being the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the Electronics Product Code Global Incorporated (EPCglobal), and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

Each radio frequency also has associated standards, for example, ISO 10536 for close coupling RFID cards or ISO 24710 for elementary tags with limited memory capability for identification and data capture, which can guide you toward the best solution for your needs. 

What Can a Smartcard or RFID Do?

While these tools are predominately thought of in terms of technology, there is greater scope for what smartcards and RFID can do. Typical “services” requested might be “please open this door for me”, or “please log me on to this website”, or “please dispense me a cup of coffee”, etc. While these services might have been made available through cards with a magstripe or barcode, there are two main reasons why smartcards and RFID present a significant step forward:


First and foremost, security was at the root of developing these new technologies. Prior technologies were inherently open, which meant anyone could read and copy the digital codes. They were, therefore, conducive to fraud, whereby an imposter could easily copy the digital identity from your card and access the services as if he were you. There is a range of different smartcard and RFID technologies, with increasing levels of security, but all of them make it far more difficult for someone to copy your digital ID, these can include the following: 

  • Authenticated and authorized access. The device or smart card can process information, allowing it to provide authenticated access and protect personal information. 
  • Strong contactless security. Smartcard technology is difficult to copy and includes a variety of software and hardware capabilities to react to tampering. 
  • Mutual authentication. There are instances where a smart card can verify the individual is authentic and also identify that the card reader is authentic. 
  • Supporting information privacy. Smartcard technology can strengthen the system’s ability to protect privacy, which is a very simple solution that can improve a company’s information.


When we’re looking for technological solutions that make life easier for us. we have to consider how easy it is for an organization to use something, especially when time is money! Some traditional technologies required expensive, cumbersome equipment (think of the complex equipment required to scan your barcodes when checking out at the supermarket). 

Others required somewhat inconvenient card manipulation, like swiping through a reader. (Who hasn’t had to re-swipe his or her card because it was turned the wrong way, or upside down?) With new technologies, cards can be read at a distance, often while they’re still in your pocket.

These two factors, security and convenience, are exactly what companies are looking for when they develop a staff ID card program. 

How Else Can RFID and Smartcards Help Employees and Businesses?

There are a number of innovative solutions for secure authentication, and traditional keycards are still one of the best frontlines of security in professional circles. There are some fantastic reasons that RFID and smartcards continue to play a vital role for employees and businesses:

Easier for Employees to Use

The most important thing to remember is that smart cards or cards with RF technology have been in place for a long time. Businesses need to find ways to cut corners, and ensuring that employees can do their work easily and without issue at the front door can make a big difference. 

Compare this to newer security methods, like Multi-Factor Authentication, and there is a greater learning curve an employee needs to go through. If an individual needs to learn how to use a biometric reader or has to remember more passwords or PIN numbers, this can cause more frustration. Smart cards and RFIDs are much easier to use.

An Established Infrastructure

From the perspective of security measures, authentication technology that is easy to use makes for a more efficient organization. Most businesses already have an access control infrastructure in place that is based on RFID. 

Rather than making major upgrades to a business by completely altering the technology, it is far simpler to opt for something that has already been proven to be successful. Making upgrades to card readers require minimal downtime, resulting in greater productivity and much less stress.

Reduced Costs

Every organization is determined to save on its bottom line. Modern technology requires a high level of investment, and authentication always comes at a price. Comparing this to RFID technology, a small business looking to scale up can still purchase a system well within a reasonable budget.

With the costs of RFID cards covering a number of options for your business needs, you can still operate within a budget that suits you. An organization with a smaller employee base can maintain a comprehensive level of security without having to invest above and beyond.

Greater Advantages Over Contemporary Tools

While new MFA protocols are becoming more sophisticated, this requires more complexity for businesses and employees to grasp. For example, new protocols may require employees to download an app onto their phone and go through a number of hoops of authentication or use a biometric tech with a fingerprint or iris ID, which can seem too much of a leap into the future. 

Companies that use smart cards and RFID badges may seem a primitive solution in comparison to MFA, but the reality is that most businesses can benefit from simple and effective RFID and smartcard solutions. A company needs to measure a number of simple metrics:

  • Attendance checking. 
  • Signing in and signing out. 
  • Authentic ID. 

When you consider the environment, when you use an RFID card or a smartcard you may see the difficulties in implementing smartphones by means of identification. This would include some of the following: 

  • Locations with limited mobile signal or internet access. 
  • Environments where phones are prohibited on-site or in specific areas. 
  • Jobs where mobile phones are considered a hindrance, for example, in customer-facing roles.

When it comes to privacy, security, and ease of use, these functions must be embedded at a business level. Contactless smartcard technology and RFID functions are there to help organizations implement a better level of security. 

As more and more ID cards are being produced with an embedded chip, slowly replacing prior generations of technology, it is critical for organizations to progress with a greater understanding of how they can secure their premises. While many organizations look to upgrade their technology, there are a number of solutions any business can utilize to protect its assets and employees. 

Smart cards and RFID cards are invaluable to making your company a far more solid entity. More and more of the cards we print at InstantCard are smartcards or contain an RFID transponder, so if you have any questions about how your ID card program might be enhanced with one of these modern technologies, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Can I use my phone to read RFID ID cards?2023-08-22T06:36:25-04:00

Some smartphones, equipped with Near Field Communication (NFC) capabilities, can read certain high-frequency RFID cards. However, specific applications or permissions might be required. Learn about the convergence of RFID technology and mobile devices in our informative article.

How secure are RFID ID cards?2023-08-22T06:35:51-04:00

Modern RFID cards incorporate advanced encryption and security features, making unauthorized access challenging. However, like any technology, it’s essential to employ best practices for maximum security. Dive into RFID card security measures in our dedicated post.

Can I customize the data stored on an RFID ID card?2023-08-22T06:35:21-04:00

Absolutely! Using RFID writer devices and appropriate software, organizations can encode specific data on the card’s chip, tailoring it to their requirements. Discover more about customization and the potential of RFID cards in our comprehensive article.

How long do RFID ID cards last?2023-08-22T06:34:50-04:00

The lifespan of an RFID card largely depends on its usage and quality. Typically, these cards can last several years. Wear and tear or exposure to extreme conditions can affect their lifespan. For insights on RFID card durability and care, refer to our post.

Are there different types of RFID ID cards?2023-08-22T06:34:12-04:00

Yes, there are mainly two types: Low-Frequency (LF) and High-Frequency (HF) cards, each operating at different frequencies and suited for specific applications. Delve deeper into the types and their uses in our extensive guide.

What’s the difference between RFID cards and traditional magnetic stripe cards?2023-08-22T06:33:36-04:00

While magnetic stripe cards require direct contact with a reader, RFID cards operate wirelessly using radio frequency. Additionally, RFID cards often offer increased data storage and enhanced security features compared to magnetic stripe cards. For a comprehensive comparison, check out our article here.

Why are RFID ID cards becoming so popular?2023-08-22T06:33:04-04:00

RFID ID cards offer quick, contactless interactions, which makes them ideal for various applications such as access control, cashless payments, and attendance tracking. Their convenience, combined with enhanced security features, makes them a top choice for many organizations. Learn more about the rise and applications of RFID cards in our detailed post.

How to find a lost RFID card ID?2023-08-22T06:32:33-04:00

If you’ve registered your RFID card with a system, contacting the issuing authority can help track or deactivate it. Some advanced systems might offer location-based services to aid in recovery. Remember, it’s essential to report lost RFID cards promptly to prevent unauthorized use. Discover more about RFID card security and management here.

How to use a 125kHz USB RFID contactless proximity sensor smart ID card reader?2024-02-08T07:35:11-05:00

This device reads RFID cards operating at 125kHz frequency. By placing the card close to the reader, data can be wirelessly accessed. The USB interface usually allows for direct connection to computers or systems for data processing. For more on RFID card technologies and frequencies, explore our comprehensive guide.

What is 1 x RFID ID card copier?2023-08-22T06:31:08-04:00

The “1 x RFID ID card copier” refers to a single device used to copy data from one RFID card to another. These devices are often used for backup, cloning, or programming purposes. Learn more about the applications and functions of RFID technology in our post.

How to know if my student ID card uses RFID?2023-08-22T06:30:18-04:00

Check for any radio wave symbols or “RFID” labels on the card. Additionally, your educational institution might provide this information. For a deeper understanding of RFID cards and their various applications, our article can be a great resource.

How do I encode an RFID chip in an ID card?2023-08-22T06:29:49-04:00

Encoding requires an RFID writer and associated software. By placing the card near the writer, you can program or encode data onto the chip. This process may vary based on the specific RFID system in use. Our detailed guide provides more insights into RFID card operations.

How to tell if an ID card is RFID?2023-08-22T06:29:18-04:00

An RFID ID card may feature a radio wave symbol, or the term “RFID” printed on it. Alternatively, using an RFID reader can confirm its capabilities. Learn more about distinguishing features of RFID cards here.

What is the RFID copier ID IC card reader/writer +10 cards, tags used for?2023-08-22T06:28:42-04:00

This device allows users to copy, read, and write data to RFID cards and tags. The “+10 cards, tags” typically means the package includes additional blank RFID cards or tags for use. For a deeper understanding of RFID card functionalities, check out our post.

How to use an RFID ID card reader & writer?2023-08-22T06:27:57-04:00

Using an RFID reader-writer involves placing the card close to the device, allowing for wireless communication. Specific operations, like reading or writing data, depend on the software accompanying the device. For a comprehensive look at RFID card operations, refer to our guide.

What is an RFID ID card reader writer used for?2023-08-22T06:27:28-04:00

An RFID ID card reader-writer communicates with RFID cards, allowing for data reading and writing. These devices can be used for various applications, including access control, data storage, or even programming new cards. Dive deeper into RFID card technology here.

What is an RFID ID credit card holder?2023-08-22T06:26:46-04:00

An RFID ID credit card holder is designed to store cards while also providing a protective shield against unauthorized RFID scans. This ensures your data remains secure. Explore more about the functionality of RFID in our detailed post.

How can you tell whether your Lodis mini ID card case is RFID?2023-08-22T06:26:17-04:00

The product description or packaging usually indicates if a Lodis mini ID card case has RFID protection. If you’re unsure, reach out to the manufacturer or retailer for clarification. For broader knowledge on RFID cards, our guide can help.

RFID card: what is it?2023-08-22T06:25:45-04:00

An RFID card uses Radio Frequency Identification technology to transmit data wirelessly between the card and a reader. These cards are often used for access control, transactions, and identification. Discover the intricacies of RFID cards in our article.

How to get an RFID/ID card password system to work?2023-08-22T06:25:11-04:00

Implementing an RFID/ID card password system requires an RFID reader, appropriate software, and RFID cards with the required security protocols. The reader communicates with the card’s chip to verify the encoded password or data. For a deep dive into how these systems function, visit our detailed post on smartcards and RFID cards.

How can hackers steal information from your RFID ID card?2023-08-22T06:24:33-04:00

Hackers can use specialized devices to intercept the radio frequency signals emitted by an RFID card, potentially capturing the data stored on it. However, advancements in RFID technology have introduced encrypted chips and security features making unauthorized access much harder. Learn more about RFID card security here.

How can you tell if a credit card is RFID?2023-08-22T06:23:59-04:00

An RFID credit card will often have a symbol resembling radio waves or might explicitly state “RFID” or “Contactless” on it. You can also check with your card issuer or test the card with an RFID reader. For more details on RFID cards, check out our comprehensive guide.

By |2023-08-22T06:39:13-04:00March 15th, 2015|Categories: Card Technology, Current Clients, Security|

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About the Author:

David Finkelstein is the founder and CEO of InstantCard. David has deep experience with smartcard technologies and NFC, as well as other auto-identification technologies. He has extensive international sales, marketing and Business Development experience.
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