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What’s the Difference between Contactless Smart Cards and RFID Technology?

The contactless smart card and the RFID technology which is an acronym for Radio Frequency Identification Technology are both groundbreaking innovations in the tech world.

They both share quite a few things in common but vary in some ways. Most times both technologies are misunderstood due to certain striking similarities they share in common.

Digital transformation is taking over the world in business, government, education, security, pets, goods, and the list is endless. Contactless smart cards and the RFID technology are both employed in driving this digital revolution amongst other things.It’s not alien to find people misconstruing the applications or uses of both technologies. In crystal clear terms, both the contactless smart card and RFID technologies will be explained for proper distinction and understanding in this post.

What are Contactless Smart Cards?

Contactless smart cards are cards with the ability to store and protect personal information, enable users to access data stored in them and interact freely with a contactless smart card reader.

Contactless smart cards are in contrast to their contact smart cards counterparts. Both are types of smart cards. While contact smart cards require physical interaction between them and their smart card readers, the contactless smart cards do not require any physical contact between them and their card readers to establish a connection for any interaction to take place.
Contactless smart cards come with a memory chip embedded in their plastic bodies which are where information can be stored and accessed whenever the need arises. The same can be said for their contact smart cards variants.

The contactless smart cards have a small antenna embedded in their plastic bodies which can enable them to establish a connection with a contactless smart card reader using radio frequencies.

The connection can be established when the contactless smart card is within close proximity to a contactless smart card reader. The chip housing personal information of the user is immediately activated when the card comes near the electromagnetic field of the reader and subsequently data transfer can take place.

Uses of Contactless Smart Cards

Contactless smart cards can be used in a lot of settings, but basically, they are applied in settings where the personal information of users is taken as a topmost priority. For instance, most leading companies around the world issue contactless smart cards to their employees with which they can use to access their offices through automated security checkpoints by just flashing the cards on the face of the card reader and the door opens after reading their personal information. If you don’t own such a card, there’s no way you are gaining access to the building unless you steal the card from someone.

The government also use these cards in electronic passports and visas which require protection of personal data. These cards can be used by its holders to carry out financial transactions securely and swiftly like transit fare payment cards, meal cards and other cards in which corporate or government body can design exclusively enable its employee access certain services in and around their offices. It’s really a personal thing.

The RFID Technology

The Radio Frequency Identification technology is mostly employed in the business world especially by consumer goods companies to keep track of their inventory and maintain round the clock surveillance on them. The RFID uses tags which are small microprocessor chips that can allow data to be read, stored and written to them.

They can be applied on just about anything from pens, phones, toiletries, handbags, watches, sunglasses, chocolates, animals and so on. With these tags, the information on any product that they are attached to can be accessed from about 30 feet away. They are more like transponders which is why you can implant them on your pets and easily find them around your home by tracking them.

The RFID technology forms the basis of smart products where physical products can have their online variations through the use of the tags for monitoring. The consumer goods company that leads the pack in the niche today around the world do so with smart products and RFID technology.

Uses of the RFID Technology

Manufacturing companies, warehouses, and malls, e.g. Walmart are major users of the RFID technology. They are now replacing barcode scanners and magnetic stripes. With the RFID technology, these companies can keep track of their inventory without human intervention.

Since every good have a tag implanted in them and connected to a central database, if anything goes wrong with any of the goods as in the case of a warehouse, it reflects on their computer system and the management knows something is wrong. They are also used to identify rail cars along rail lines when they move. This is deployed in the rail transport system of developed climes.

Major Similarities between the Contactless Smart Cards and RFID Technology

  • They are both used to store, read and write data
  • They both make use of wireless networks or simply put; they are both contactless.
  • They provide unique identities. For contactless smart cards, they provide unique identities to humans while RFID provides unique identities to products for inventory control.

Major Differences between The Contactless Smart Cards and RFID Technology


Regarding security, the contactless smart card is more advanced and secure than the RFID technology. When data on a product can be tracked from 30 feet away, it means someone can eavesdrop on the connection and steal away sensitive data by tapping into the electromagnetic field hovering around.

The contactless smart card can only transmit information within centimeters in distance which means your cyber thief needs to be really close to pull off such a stunt which is a lot more tasking because you only need seconds to establish a connection after which the connection is gone.


While the contactless smart card is applied in cases where personal information is paramount hence a high-security backing, the RFID technology is used in products or animals and other non-living things for tracking inventory and movement through unique identities provided for each product or thing.

So while the banks, insurance companies, government, and other corporate bodies make use of contactless smart cards, manufacturing companies, warehouses, and consumer goods companies uses RFID technology.

Memory Capacity

In contactless smart cards, they have a memory capacity of about 512 bits which can contain a substantial amount of private information and can be secured through encryption codes, but in RFID technology which is basically used for inventory control, the usable memory could be up to 90 bits or even less.


With the similarities and differences observed between contactless smart cards and RFID technology, one factor is more pronounced, and that is the security factor. This keeps contactless smart cards at an edge over RFID.

Security is a major concern in any venture and should be given primal attention. If the RFID technology can be reviewed with a motive of providing a solution to its security lapses, it would be a fantastic idea and a welcome development for technology. Both technologies are great for the digital age, and they amazingly serve their various purposes.

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