RFID Firmware: 8 Common Questions Answered

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What is firmware?


Firmware is a piece of software that is programmed into the non-volatile memory of a device. This software provides control, monitoring, and data manipulation of engineered products. Depending on the type of device, the firmware could be responsible for simple commands like controlling LED lights, or more complex actions like monitoring complex internal items like oscillators.


What type of devices use firmware?


Most electronic devices use some type of firmware such as RFID readers, music players, and mobile phones in order to operate. Other types of devices that use firmware include cameras, automobiles, and game systems.


Where is firmware located on the device?


Firmware is stored in a device’s non-volatile memory, which is read-only and programmed during the manufacturing process. The location of the non-volatile memory (or NVS) storage varies depending on the device in question. The firmware is programmed into this specific type of memory because the contents of the storage area are saved when the device is turned off.


Can firmware be manipulated?


Technically, firmware can be manipulated by both the consumer and the manufacturer after the device is constructed. It is not recommended for the consumer to manipulate the firmware on a device since it is designed for a specific purpose, but like most software pieces, the ability to hack the firmware technically exists.


The manufacturer is able to manipulate or update the firmware of the device regularly or when needed if the device is connected to the internet. Generally speaking, manufacturer updates to firmware should be installed as the updates are released.


Is firmware often updated/changed?


How often the firmware is updated or changed depends on if there are any issues that need to be addressed. Firmware is usually updated to give the devices new abilities, make improvements, fix bugs, or to implement new versions. Generally speaking, firmware for RFID readers is updated once or twice a year, depending on the manufacturer.


What is the difference between firmware and basic software?


Firmware is software that exists on a piece of hardware and cannot be erased, while software is more of a generic term for a program that performs tasks related to a piece of hardware (or other software programs). Common examples of software are programs like Microsoft Word and Adobe programs.


What can an RFID system do with only firmware?


Not much; software is essentially the glue that holds any RFID system together. Firmware on its own will allow the RFID reader to boot up and run internal processes, but that is about it. Additional software is needed to interface with the reader in order to manipulate reader settings, view data, and read or write RFID tags.


Do all RFID readers have the same firmware?


No. Generally speaking, the firmware for each brand and type of RFID reader is unique. The way that each company manufactures its readers (and the firmware created to reside on them) can be very different from other companies. Each reader model within a company’s brand usually has its own specific firmware as well, but there can be exceptions when a company produces different readers with the same “guts”. For example, although the ThingMagic Astra-EX and the ThingMagic M6 are marketed and sold for different purposes and may appear vastly different to end-users, the internal RFID reader modules are the same allowing them to function using the same firmware.

Last update: Dec 27, 2017

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