What is an RFID tag? All about RFID technology in FASTag

Team AckodriveJun 6, 2022

RFID or Radio Frequency Identification is the core technology used in the FASTag system of electronic toll payment collection. With the adoption of RFID, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has enabled cashless toll collections on highways across the country.

In this article, we will discuss multiple factors of RFID technology that make it a success in the FASTag toll payment collection.

RFID tag

What is an RFID tag?

An RFID tag is essentially an identification device that electronically stores information like a barcode tag. Each tag contains an EPC or Electronic Produce Code for unique product identification.

In the FASTag system, the EPC code consists of 13 digits issued by GS1 India, an authorised barcode registration body. They ensure that each vehicle receives a unique customer ID with their FASTags. The radio frequency signals from an RFID scanner can track the EPC to initiate a digital payment transfer at a toll plaza.

Also, read: How to find FASTag customer ID using vehicle number?

Components of RFID technology

There are four major components involved in RFID technology.

1. RFID tag

An RFID tag is a small device that conceals an electronic microchip as well as an antenna inside. The microchip inside the tag contains a unique ID number. 

2. RFID antenna

An RFID antenna operates at a particular frequency based on the purpose of its application. Attached to an RFID reader, the role of this antenna is to detect RFID tags when they come within the range of its signal. Similarly, the tag conceals an antenna that catches the signal from the reader’s antenna.

The shape and size of an antenna can differ based on the operating frequency and application of RFID. For instance, a handheld RFID reader can have a very small antenna attached. 

3. RFID reader

The reader is the hardware component that conceals an antenna to read RFID tags for information based on its application. These readers are responsible for transferring information within the system to initiate the process depending on the application. 

4. Software

The RFID technology system requires software to operate. The type of software may change depending on the RFID application, but its major role is to control the reader, initiate scans and retrieve data from RFID tags to store in a database.

How does RFID work?

The RFID technology utilises the principle of inductive coupling that involves a receiver and a source antenna. The microchip in the RFID tag contains its unique identification code, manufacturing date, model access information, expiry date, etc. 

An RFID reader sends small radio frequency signals to track and transfer data from an RFID tag. The tag catches the signal from the reader and begins data transmission back to the RFID reader. It is an entirely digital and contactless process of transferring data. 

Types of RFID tags

There are two types of RFID tags based on their power source.

1. Active RFID tags

  • An active RFID tag consists of a battery to power the transfer of information.

  • This battery is small in size and needs replacement after some time.

  • These types of tags offer a long communication range.

  • They can initiate communications and perform diagnostics as well. 

2. Passive RFID tags

  • A passive RFID tag doesn’t contain a battery.

  • It operates only using the electromagnetic energy sent by an RFID reader.

  • These tags are more economical to manufacture and last longer than active tags.

  • The FASTag system of toll collection uses Passive RFID tags.

What are the major RFID tag uses?

The ease of data transfer makes RFID a valuable technology in many industries. This technology has made its way into the retail, supply chain, security, healthcare, logistics, toll collection, etc.

Let’s discuss some of the major RFID technology applications in detail.

1. Toll payment collection

RFID technology is an efficient alternative to manual toll payment collection worldwide. In India, the FASTag system introduced by the government uses this technology to collect tolls at national highway toll plazas.

Almost all toll booths on national highways now have FASTag readers. All four-wheeler motor vehicle owners need a FASTag sticker attached to their vehicle’s windshield for electronic toll transactions.

A FASTag contains a microchip that secures all data associated with the vehicle, its owner and payment source. When a vehicle comes within 20 feet to 30 feet range of an RFID reader, it detects the signal and initiates the electronic transaction of toll amount.

Using this technology, the Government of India is improving the toll payment experience for vehicle owners. Tolls booths are able to quickly collect payments and avoid long waiting periods. 

2. Retail 

RFID technology is bringing operational efficiency into supply chain management. Stores can manage their stocks efficiently, while customers can get product information faster.

Many fashion stores have adopted RFID to modernise their store experience for customers. It allows retailers to ensure faster customer checkouts without increasing the number of customer support staff.

The same technology helps to reduce the threat of theft in retail stores. The RFID system can detect whether the items passing through an exit door have been paid for or not. 

3. Healthcare

RFID technology has many potential uses in the healthcare industry as well. It can ease the process of tracking medical equipment, stock of medicines, and even authorising access in different areas at a hospital.

RFID tag usage in healthcare removes the need for barcode scanning, which can improve the pace of various procedures. It also helps to further reduce the chances of human errors, making medical procedures more satisfactory for patients. By implementing this technology, hospitals and clinics can decrease the wait time for patients on busy days.

4. Security

RFID also improves access control in corporate offices, airports, hospitals, manufacturing plants, etc. Employers can provide different levels of authorisation to employees using RFID. Each employee can have a personal identification badge, and employers can install RFID readers at strategic locations of a company.

5. Logistics

Shipping and logistics are the primary sectors of RFID technology applications. Earlier, the manual tracking of inventory movements used to be overwhelming due to the large number of stored items at manufacturing plants, warehouses, etc.

With the arrival of RFID, it takes seconds to read and track hundreds of items without making a mistake. Moreover, all the data related to the stored items is updated without any manual work.

Installed at the gates, RFID readers can maintain an accurate record of everything going out and coming into the warehouse. Thus, this technology is increasing warehouse management efficiency on a large scale. 

6. Baggage management in aviation

RFID technology is also improving the efficiency of baggage handling at airports. Unlike barcode scanning, an RFID reader doesn’t need a specific angle to read a tag. Similarly, the operators can keep an accurate track of baggage that moves out or comes into the luggage storage. 

Advantages of RFID technology in FASTag

The use of RFID technology in FASTag has turned out to be highly beneficial in many ways. Toll collection on highways is now much easier and less time-consuming. Let’s discuss the benefits in detail!

1. Cashless toll payments

Drivers don’t have to worry about carrying cash for toll payments anymore. Before FASTags, drivers used to pay tolls with cash, credit/debit cards at toll booths. But manual toll collections often tend to cause traffic jams, resulting in too much honking from vehicles in the queue.

The arrival of the RFID-enabled FASTag system has made toll payments cashless. Hence, the toll booth experience becomes much smoother and hassle-free for vehicle drivers. 

2. Saves your time and fuel

Long queues of vehicles were pretty common at toll booths before the FASTag system. It significantly increased the time and fuel spent on a journey for drivers. The more time they spent stuck at toll booths, the more fuel they needed to complete their journey.

With RFID technology in place, now this problem has been almost resolved from toll plazas. It takes less than 60 seconds for a vehicle to cross a toll with automated payment deduction.

A car has to stop just for a few seconds for the RFID reader to detect a FASTag. Upon successful transaction, the toll gate opens immediately. It saves from long waiting periods at toll booths. 

3. Minimal human intervention

Apart from cash payments, manual data logging was also a reason for time-taking toll collection before FASTags. Toll collectors at plazas had to collect the cash, log the data (such as the vehicle number), prepare the bill and give it to the customer. All this took too much time and increased the chances of errors too.

Now with RFID technology, the FASTag system has minimised human intervention in the process of toll collection. An automated network takes care of the scanning of tags and ensures accurate transactions and data logging.

4. Secure transactions

RFID technology has added more security and transparency to toll collection on Indian highways. Each FASTag comes linked to a digital wallet secured with a user ID and password. Moreover, a car owner has to register with his/her mobile number while buying a tag.

Thus, a user can conveniently track all toll deductions digitally. In fact, you will get an instant SMS alert on your registered mobile number for every toll amount debited from your FASTag wallet. Also, you can log into your digital FASTag wallet to overview all the expenses and recharge for future journeys. 

Frequently asked questions

Below we have answered some of the common questions about RFID-enabled FASTags.

What is the RFID full form?

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The RFID technology stands for Radio Frequency Identification.

Has RFID made an impact on highway experience?

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RFID technology has definitely improved the highway experience for drivers with automated toll payments. Toll plazas are now much more efficient in payment collection. Thus, vehicle drivers save time and experience smooth traffic movements at toll booths.

What is the RFID number in FASTag?

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The RFID number is the unique 16-digit number provided to each FASTag. This number begins with the digit ‘6’ and looks like ‘6xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx’.

Just like the customer ID, an RFID number remains unique to a FASTag and the vehicle it is registered to. Thus, RFID readers can accurately identify and transfer data from a tag.

Is the RFID FASTag system available at all toll plazas in the country?

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Though most toll plazas in India now use the FASTag payment system, there are still some regions where tolls are collected manually. You can visit the NHAI website by the National Highways Authority of India to find a list of all toll plazas that have the FASTag system in place.

Are FASTag and RFID tags different?

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No, essentially, the RFID tag and FASTag are two terms used for the same device. It is the tag that you install on your vehicle's windscreen for automated payment deduction at toll plazas.

Why do I have to use one FASTag for one vehicle only?

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The FASTag system uses RFID technology for unique vehicle identification through radio frequencies. Thus, each FASTag must be registered to one vehicle number, so the RFID reader can identify vehicle details and transfer that information for toll deduction. This is why you can use one FASTag for one vehicle at a time.

Can the RFID reader fail to read my FASTag at a toll plaza?

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Yes, it is possible in situations when your FASTag is damaged, or the RFID reader is damaged. Similarly, an RFID reader won’t be able to detect a FASTag if something is obstructing it inside the car. You must also ensure that your FASTag sticker is active and installed properly on the windshield of your vehicle.

So, you must ensure that you are carrying a valid, undamaged FASTag to ensure quick identification and toll tax deduction at toll plazas. You can ask the issuer bank for a replacement if your FASTag gets damaged somehow.

Can I pay in cash while crossing a FASTag toll lane?

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The Government of India has made FASTag payments mandatory at toll plazas for four-wheeled vehicles. However, you can choose to pay in cash, but the charges will be double the regular toll tax.

For instance, if a regular toll charge is Rs. 100 using FASTag, you will have to pay Rs. 200 to cross that toll booth while paying in cash. Thus, it would be better to get FASTag for your vehicle.

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