Choosing a Fixed or Handheld RFID Reader

If you are just starting out with your research on an RFID system, one of the questions you may be asking yourself is, do I want a fixed or a handheld RFID reader? The biggest difference between the two is that a fixed RFID reader remains in one place, like a desktop computer, while a handheld RFID reader can be taken on the go, like a mobile tablet.

Each of these types of readers can be highly beneficial in different industries. We can further understand which reader is best for our application by examining the benefits of each type of reader.

Benefits of a Fixed RFID Reader

  • Always-on, real-time monitoring: Since a fixed RFID reader remains powered on and does not move, it sits quietly in the corner of the building and collects data on a continuous basis. This is why fixed RFID readers are also considered “work horses” in the RFID industry.
  • Automated asset management/inventory tracking: With always-on monitoring, no one has to think about turning the reader on and doing a scan. So, if you are trying to keep track of how much inventory comes into your building a day, but don’t want to have to remember to conduct a scan each time a shipment comes in, having an always-on fixed RFID reader is a great way to automate that process.
  • Broad read range: Similar to how desktops typically have more computing power than mobile computers, fixed RFID readers typically have higher read range than handheld readers, and can monitor a larger area at one time.
  • Flexibility on what type of antennas can be connected to the reader: Fixed RFID readers typically come with anywhere from 1-8 antenna ports, with the option to connect even more antennas with a multiplexor. As long as you are using the right cables to connect, you are essentially free to choose any type of antenna within the same frequency range of your application.

Benefits of a Handheld RFID Reader

  • Easily transportable: Handheld RFID readers are designed to be taken with you wherever you need to go, which is why they are lightweight and battery-powered. Typically, they are also designed with ergonomic comfort in mind.
  • No physical installation required- quick deployment: Unlike a fixed RFID reader, which requires mounting and cabling, handheld readers have no installation requirements other than to simply turn on the unit and start reading RFID tags.
  • Geiger counter function for locating items: The Geiger counter has a sort of “hot/cold” functionality that allows you to locate items by beeping faster as you get close to the item you are looking for. 
  • Simple to use: Many handheld readers have key functionalities that make data collection and transfer even easier by translating the codes of the RFID tag without the need for RFID middleware, which may be required for fixed RFID readers (for more on RFID middleware, visit this link).

As seen above, each type of reader has a unique set of benefits. Now, let’s examine how these benefits can be applied to different use cases.

Sample Use Cases where Fixed RFID Readers can be used

  • Warehouses/Distribution centers: For businesses looking to track inventory in their warehouses or distribution centers, a fixed RFID reader is a great choice because a single reader can typically cover the expanse of the building, enabling the business with consistent, real-time inventory visibility.
  • Retail: Fixed RFID readers can also be used as POS (point of sales) systems. For example, the Caen Hex Multipurpose RAIN RFID Reader with POE has been used as a tabletop checkout scanner. Instead of using a barcode scanner, a retail sales associate can simply run items over the top of the reader and instantly scan them, which charge the customer as well as update the inventory system that this item has been removed.
  • Manufacturing: If you’re looking to track items as they move across a conveyor belt line, you probably won’t want to chase them around the facility with a handheld RFID reader. Instead, having a mounted fixed reader over the conveyor belt will allow the tags to automatically be captured as they pass through the read zone.

Sample Cases where Handheld RFID Readers can be used

  • Laundry Management: For a business whose bread and butter involves traveling to different locations to pick up loads of laundry, having fixed RFID readers at each location would be a very lengthy deployment process. Instead, it would be much simpler (and more cost-effective) to have a single handheld unit that the driver takes on his or her routes, conducting scans at each of the locations visited on a given day.
  • Healthcare: For something like equipment tracking in a large facility, leveraging the Geiger counter feature can be really useful for helping people finding what they need. In addition, equipment that is rented out to hospitals, such as surgical kits, can be quickly audited by walking about the facility with a handheld scanner.
  • Uniform Tracking: Depending on the model of handheld reader you choose, scanned data can typically show up directly on the display of the device (or attached smart-device in the case of a handheld sled reader) at the time of scan. For example, if you need to issue out a uniform to an employee, you can quickly scan the uniform and see right away if the uniform you have scanned is assigned to the employee who is patiently waiting at the checkout counter.

This is, of course, a very broad overview of how these readers are used in various situations. The type of reader you select for your application will change depending on a number of variables. For assistance in selecting a handheld or fixed reader for your application, please contact us!

Oct 11th 2019 Annelise McKay

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