As mentioned in “RFID Readers: Basic Options & Features”, a significant aspect to consider when choosing an RFID reader is determining if it is network capable or if it must connect to a host computer. In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of each.
- Wi-Fi – Networked
- LAN – Networked
- Bluetooth – Direct Connection
- Serial – Direct Connection
- Auxiliary Port – Direct Connection
Most enterprise-level RFID readers offer networking capability where the user can setup the reader on a network and access it from multiple devices via a Wi-Fi or LAN connection.
In this article, “networking” refers to the process of setting up an RFID reader on a local or wireless network, assigning it an IP address, and making it accessible to another device via a connection to the same network.
Networking a reader is typically straightforward and can provide the user with a few benefits when compared to connecting to a host computer via a direct connection – in particular, accessibility, ease of configuration, and multiple data export options.
Accessibility & Ease-of-Configuration
When a reader is setup on a network, it can be accessed remotely (with the appropriate credentials) by any device on that network, including mobile devices. The ability for multiple devices to access an RFID reader is important in applications that need remote troubleshooting and updates.
Once a reader is connected to a network, it is easier to check the reader’s status, make changes to the reader’s settings, and even upgrade the reader’s firmware. Additionally, most networked RFID readers allow the user to access lower-level commands. Interfacing on this level may require using different commands depending on the reader or reader manufacturer, but allows experienced users to manually configure a reader’s properties and offers users a wider range of customization. Users can remotely configure settings like static IP addresses, DNS server settings, and NTP clock synchronization, as well as view reader log data and troubleshoot issues.
Multiple Data Export Options
Most RFID readers offer various methods of exporting tag data to be used by another service/software and networking a reader is what enables many of those available options. Without networking a reader, options are limited to downloading and exporting the data via serial (USB), saving to a specially formatted flash drive, or using keyboard wedge functionality to input the data to a program like Excel. If a reader is networked, it has other options such as streaming tag data via a TCP/IP port, or even sending the data to a web server or database via HTTP(S) POST. Networking a reader allows users to further customize and tailor the RFID system for their specific application.
There are a few cons to networking an RFID reader that can be mitigated if the user is aware of what the risks are and how to safely and effectively reduce them. The three main threats to be aware of when networking a reader are security risks, network outages, and required technical expertise.
As stated previously, one benefit for networking a reader is the ability to access the reader remotely; however, this can also be a security risk. Additional measures may need to be taken to ensure that only authorized parties can access the reader and the data being collected. In order to mitigate this risk, use the same level of security protocols for the RFID reader as any other device added to the network.
Loss of connectivity could mean the loss of valuable data. Relying on a network for the success of an RFID system can be risky if the network is subject to bandwidth issues (lag time), or if it is prone to interruptions or outages.
Lastly, networking a reader can sometimes require technical expertise, especially when dealing with a private, high-security network. Depending on the type and size of the network, as well as the level of security, a networking specialist may be required to set everything up and get the reader online. While that seems like a one-time added step and cost, if there is a problem with the network that interferes with the function of the reader – such as speed, bandwidth, or the reader’s connection to the network in general, you may have to rely on the specialist to resolve any issues. If the specialist is responsive, quick, and effective, this may not be a problem; if there are delays, the risk is greater because the longer the reader is not on the network equates to more data lost – skewing the system and results.
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