The following is excerpted from Chapter 3: Radio Basics for UHF RFID
from the Book, The RF in RFID: Passive UHF RFID in Practice
by Daniel M. Dobkin. Order a copy of The RF in RFID: Passive UHF RFID in Practice
before December 31, 2007 to receive an additional 20% off! Visit www.newnespress.com
or call 1-800-545-2522 and use code 91090.
Part 1 covers electromagnetic waves, signal voltage, and power.
This Part covers modulation and multiplexing.
Part 3 covers backscatter radio links and introduces link budgets.
Part 4 reveals how to determine the link budget.
Part 5 focuses on the effect of antenna gain on range.
Part 6 covers antenna polarization.
Part 7 covers antenna propagation.
Information, Modulation, and Multiplexing
A periodic signal that persists indefinitely, without changing its amplitude, frequency, or
phasea continuous wave (CW) signalcarries no information other than the fact that it is
present. In order to convey data, a signal needs to change. We normally think of this change as
a relatively slowly changing variationmodulationimposed on the periodic signal, for
The function m(t) is said to contain the baseband information, and the relatively high frequency
cosine function is the carrier. When the function m(t) is another sine or cosine
(presumably of much lower frequency), we can make use of trigonometric identities to rewrite the signal in a revealing fashion:
A sinusoidal modulation splits the carrier wave into two signals called sidebands, one above
and one below the carrier, each displaced by the modulating frequency (Figure 3.5). While a
continuous sinusoidal modulation is hardly more interesting or useful than a CW signal, this
result suggests that when a signal is modulated, the resulting frequency spectrum becomes
3.5. Sinusoidally Modulated Carrier Wave and Corresponding Frequency Spectrum; fc is the carrier frequency.
Signals of interest for RFID are generally digitally modulated. A digitally modulated signal is
a stream of distinct symbols. A simple example with substantial relevance for RFID is on"off
keying (OOK). The signal power is kept large (m = 1) to indicate a binary '1' and small or
zero (m = 0) to represent a binary '0'. An example is shown in Figure 3.6. In OOK, each symbol is a period of fixed duration in which the signal power is either high or low.
Each OOK symbol represents one binary bit, though other types of symbols can convey more than one bit each. Any circuit that can change the output power, such as a simple switch, can be
used to create an OOK signal, and any circuit that can detect power levels can demodulate
(extract the data from) the signal. For example, a diode (an electrical component that passes
electrical current only in one direction and blocks current flow in the opposite direction) can
rectify a high-frequency signal, turning it into pulses of DC. These pulses can be smoothed
with a storage capacitor to produce an output signal that looks very much like the baseband
signal m(t). If the diode responds rapidly, it can be used at very high frequencies. Modern diodes can operate up to over 1 GHz, allowing passive RFID tags to demodulate a reader signal using only a diode and capacitor.
Unmodified OOK is admirably simple and seems promising as a method of modulating a
reader signal. However, there is a problem with OOK for passive RFID. A passive RFID tag depends on power obtained from the reader to run its circuitry.
3.6. On"Off-Keyed Signal.
If that power is interrupted, the tag cannot operate. However, imagine the case of an OOK
signal containing a long string of binary 0s: in this case, m = 0 for as long as the data
remains 0. The tag will receive no power during this time. If the data remains '0' for too long,
the tag will power off and need to be restarted, a situation not likely to be conducive to reliable
operation. Even when some binary 1s are present, the power level delivered to the tag is
strongly data dependent, an undesirable trait.
3.7. Pulse-interval Coding Baseband Symbols (the function m(t)).
A common solution to the power problem is to code the binary data prior to modulation. One
RFID coding approach is known as pulse-interval encoding (PIE). A binary '1' is coded as a
short power-off pulse following a long full-power interval, and a binary '0' is coded as a
shorter full-power interval with the same power-off pulse (Figure 3.7). The resulting coded baseband signal m(t) is then used to modulate the carrier (Figure 3.8).
3.8. Pulse-interval Coding with OOK Modulation of a Carrier Wave.
PIE using equal low and high pulses for a '0' ensures that at least 50% of the maximum power is delivered to the tag even when the data being transmitted contains long strings of zeros, and if the high is three times as long for a '1', a random stream of equally mixed binary data will provide about 63% of peak power. Note that in this case, the data rate becomes dependent on the data: a stream of binary 0s will be transmitted more rapidly than a stream of binary 1s. A single symbol has two featuresthe off-time and on-timebut still conveys only one binary bit. (This scheme is used in EPCglobal Class 1 Generation 2 readers. Other passive RFID standards use slightly different coding schemes, all generally characterized by the desire to have the reader power on as much as possible to power the tag.)