There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the differences between RFID (radio frequency identification) and NFC (near field communication), and particularly how they will play out in the live event space.

The Differences Between NFC and RFID

Both NFC and RFID refer to a data transfer process between an RFID or NFC device (a ‘host’) and a ‘reader’. RFID technology has been used in various industries for almost 50 years, while NFC is still fairly nascent. NFC differs primarily in its ability to allow for information to be shared peer-to-peer between other NFC users.

The most notable everyday example of NFC is Apple Pay, which links users’ credit cards to their iPhones and allows for the seamless payment for goods and services by simply bringing the phone into close contact with the reader at a checkout. RFID as a cashless payment mechanism —while less common in everyday life—has been widely adopted by the live event and festival industry in recent years. 

While it is beyond doubt that mobile phone-based systems like Apple Pay have crossed over into mainstream use, there are a number of functional obstacles stopping NFC from becoming the live event cashless payment technology of choice.

Theft or Loss of Phones

Cellphone theft at live events is rampant (remember the guy at Coachella that was caught with over 100 stolen phones in his backpack?), and if this happens, patrons won’t be able to access the event or make on-site purchases.

RFID: In the extremely unlikely event that a patron’s wristband is stolen from their wrist, they can simply find the on-site support tent or booth, have the stolen wristband deactivated and a new one issued with their unique account ID information transferred to the new wristband.

Lack of Mobile Charging Facilities

Given the increasing ubiquity of phone use at festivals, keeping an adequate amount of charge in your cell phone at all times is a struggle, and if your phone happens to die you also lose access to your wallet. Without battery charging stations, patrons will have difficulties making on-site purchases and that is going to really eat into your concessions revenue.

RFID: Passive RFID doesn’t require a battery, meaning that it is powered by electromagnetic energy when it comes into close contact with the reader. This makes it lightweight, affordable and perfect for the rough and tumble conditions of festivals and live events.

Lack of Signal

Platforms that require a stable network to fully operate may experience disruptions when a reliable network connection cannot be secured. As you may be aware, trying to text someone at an outdoor music festival can at times feel as futile as meekly shouting out their name.

RFID: Operating on a closed-loop system, RFID can continue processing transactions even when your wifi goes down.

Lack of Tracking and Reporting

These aforementioned systems do not offer robust reporting options for vendors or event organizers. This ultimately affects transparency in vendor reconciliation and the bottom line for event organizers.

RFID: One of RFID’s biggest benefits is the sophisticated real-time reporting and seamless vendor reconciliation that it enables.

While RFID has been the focus to date in the festival landscape, it is imperative that service providers be able to adapt to the changing needs of the market – whether it’s supporting platforms like Apple Pay, or contactless technologies like NFC, or Bluetooth 4.0. At Intellitix, we recognize the potential of NFC and have already successfully piloted events integrating other contactless payment methodologies.


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