Introduction to RFID - Inductive coupling

Inductive Coupling (3.2.1)

An inductively coupled transponder comprises of an electronic data carrying device, usually a single microchip and a large area coil that functions as an antenna.

Inductive coupled RFID-System

Picture: Iductive coupled RFID-System

Inductively coupled transponders are almost always operated passively. This means that all the energy needed for the operation of the microchip has to be provided by the reader. For this purpose, the reader's antenna coil generates a strong, high frequency electro-magnetic field, which penetrates the cross -section of the coil area and the area around the coil. Because the wavelength of the frequency range used (< 135 kHz: 2400 m, 13.56 MHz: 22.1 m) is several times greater than the distance between the reader's antenna and the transponder, the electro-magnetic field may be treated as a simple magnetic alternating field with regard to the distance between transponder and antenna (see the chapter "Physical Principles – Transition from Near Field to Far Field" ( for further details).

A small part of the emitted field penetrates the antenna coil of the transponder, which is some distance away from the coil of the reader. By induction, a voltage Ui is generated in the transponder's antenna coil. This voltage is rectified and serves as the power supply for the data carrying device (microchip). A capacitor C1 is connected in parallel with the reader's antenna coil, the capacitance of which is selected such that it combines with the coil inductance of the antenna coil to form a parallel resonant circuit, with a resonant frequency that corresponds with the transmission frequency of the reader. Very high currents are generated in the antenna coil of the reader by resonance step-up in the parallel resonant circuit, which can be used to generate the required field strengths for the operation of the remote transponder.

The antenna coil of the transponder and the capacitor C1 to form a resonant circuit tuned to the transmission frequency of the reader. The voltage U at the transponder coil reaches a maximum due to resonance step-up in the parallel resonant circuit.

Picture: Operation principle of an inductive coupled system

As described above, inductively coupled systems are based upon a transformer-type coupling between the primary coil in the reader and the secondary coil in the transponder. This is true when the distance between the coils does not exceed 0.16 l, so that the transponder is located in the near field of the transmitter antenna (for a more detailed definition of the near and far fields, please refer to the chapter "Physical Principles").

If a resonant transponder (i.e. the self-resonant frequency of the transponder corresponds with the transmission frequency of the reader) is placed within the magnetic alternating field of the reader's antenna, then this draws energy from the magnetic field. This additional power consumption can be measured as voltage drop at the internal resistance  in the reader antennae through the supply current to the reader's antenna. The switching on and off of a load resistance at the transponder's antenna therefore effects voltage changes at the reader's antenna and thus has the effect of an amplitude modulation of the antenna voltage by the remote transponder.  If the switching on and off of the load resistor is controlled by data, then this data can be transferred from the transponder to the reader. This type of data transfer is called load modulation.

To reclaim the data in the reader, the voltage measured at the reader's antenna is rectified. This represents the demodulation of an amplitude modulated signal. An example circuit is shown in the chapter "Reader – Low Cost Layout".

Picture: sample circuit of the power supply and load modulator in a transponder

Picture above: If the additional load resistor in the transponder is switched on and off at a very high elementary frequency fH, then two spectral lines are created at a distance of ±fH around the transmission frequency of the reader, and these can be easily detected (however fH must be less than fREADER). In the terminology of radio technology the new elementary frequency is called a subcarrier. Data transfer is by the ASK, FSK or PSK modulation of the subcarrier in time with the data flow. This represents an amplitude modulation of the subcarrier.