Contactless ID Card with Gen 2
Contactless ID cards, tags and key fobs make life easier for millions of people by providing a fast and convenient way to open locked doors, enable cashless payments and eliminate the need to scrounge for tickets or exact change for public transit fares.

Traditional contactless ID card technology is very reliable and effective but is limited in use, because of the actual read range of the radio frequency (RF) signal, but as the RF read range of ID cards increases, so does the potential for applicability in various scenarios. Radio frequency identification (RFID) cards do not need to be within a few inches of an ID card reader in order to work, as is the case in most cashless payment and access control applications. With Gen 2 ultra-high frequency (UHF) RFID technology ID cards are securely readable from up to 50 feet away. Only recently it has become convenient and practical for organizations to print and encode long-range ID cards in house.

Gen 2 and other UHF technologies remove many of the limitations traditionally associated with contactless ID cards. This white paper explains how organizations can take advantage of the range, speed, security, and memory of Gen 2 RFID cards to create effective ID card systems for employee and customer identification, security, asset management, and customer service.

Gen 2 UHF Technology

Gen 2 technology while not widely used for personal identification, is the technology behind some of the largest, highest profile and most secure ID card printing programs in the world such as the United States Passport Card program, which uses Gen 2 RFID to increase speed, efficiency and security at U.S. land and sea border crossings, and also in potentially millions more state-issued driver’s licenses. Gen 2 contains all the elements for successful ID card technology; it is secure, standardized, supports high throughput and is widely supported. Some of the largest companies and public sector organizations in the world use Gen 2 RFID systems for mission-critical operations. Applications for personal identification continue to grow rapidly for two main reasons: organizations now have convenient options for producing and issuing Gen 2-based ID cards and many people now realize they have a choice of RFID ID card technologies and understand Gen 2 capabilities.

EPCglobal developed the Gen 2 standard so users could accurately identify multiple items simultaneously at distances not possible with legacy RFID technology. EPCglobal submitted the technology to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which ratified Gen 2 as an international standard for use world wide. Gen 2’s range and fast identification capabilities bring significant benefits to ID card applications and eliminate the need for single-file, one-at-a-time ID card swiping. Groups of people can move through large, open entry and exit points, rather than having to pass through narrow doorways, gates or turnstiles.


The Gen 2 standard specification supports RF transmission in the UHF frequency band between 860 and 960 MHz. While Gen 2 technology affords worldwide uses, the entire frequency range is not available in every country because of different national telecommunications regulations. In North America, Gen 2 systems typically operate between 902 and 928 MHz. European systems operate between 865 and 867 MHz, and Asia tends to use the higher end near 960 MHz. Frequency is an important variable to how RFID systems perform, affecting system range, transaction speed, and also immunity to RF interference caused by the physical environment.


The most obvious and dramatic difference between Gen 2 and traditional contactless ID card technologies is range. Gen 2 ID card readers can identify standard, low-cost ID cards without batteries from about 50 feet away (actual range depends on the installation location and other variables). Range for 13.56 MHz technology is limited to a few inches. The range of any RFID technology depends on the frequency and the amount of ID card reader power that the tag receives. Gen 2 users can adjust the range of their systems by adjusting the power output and by using different antennas, which allow optimizations for range, sensitivity, directionality, and other factors.

The same Gen 2 ID card may be readable from more than 50 feet away in one area but only from near contact in another. The ability to set range gives system designers tremendous flexibility. For example one ID card could provide employee access both to a company parking area and the building. In this case, a long read range would be desirable for the parking area so the gate could open as the employee vehicle approaches, but to prevent unauthorized persons that might enter just ahead of or behind the cardholder, ID cards would not unlock any further secure areas beyond the parking area from long distance reads. Variable read range technology lets facility operators personalize ID card systems for the proper blend of security, range and convenience.


Security provisions in the Gen 2 standard include multiple levels of data protection and device authentication to prevent unauthorized card reads. Several additional optional security features can be activated during the system setup. For example, Each Gen 2 chip contains a unique, preprogrammed static ID number. Users can temporarily or permanently encode additional data in the chip memory and apply different levels of security to various memory blocks. The “permalock” feature locks data into Gen 2 chip memory to prevent unauthorized users from overwriting it. Another option is 32-bit password protection that enables chips to be read or rewritten. Password protection can be applied to all or part of chip memory. Gen 2 chips can also be set only to communicate to authorized known ID card readers, a valuable authentication feature that helps prevent hacks and skimming of secure ID card information. Many common IT and network security protocols can also be applied to networked Gen 2 ID card readers and ID card printer/encoders.


Gen 2 has received strong support from users and technology developers because it meets the need for long-range, secure high-speed identification, with reliability and cost effectiveness better than alternative technologies and protocols. Most of the billions of Gen 2 RFID tags deployed have been for applications that identify assets and products, not people, but Gen 2 ID card systems are growing in use in Gen 2 enabled ID cards and documents. The U.S. government validated the effectiveness and security of Gen 2 for personal identification systems by selecting it as the technology to be used for Passport Cards, enabling fast and efficient land and sea border crossings for U.S. citizens who frequently travel to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda.

In this scenario, as travelers approach a border control officer a Gen 2 ID card reader accesses a serial number on the Passport Card from several feet away, prompting a secure database lookup. By the time the traveler reaches the checkpoint the computer screen displays the traveler’s photo and pertinent information, allowing the officer to quickly verify the traveler for entry into the U.S. Prior to the Passport Card program, Gen 2 identification proved effective for border crossing and security as part of the FAST, SENTRY and NEXUS programs for commercial truck drivers.

After the U.S. Federal Government chose to use Gen 2 for their Passport Card program, four U.S. states quickly adopted the technology as well. Arizona, New York, Washington and Vermont now use Gen 2 technology for their enhanced driver’s license (EDL) programs. The Passport Card and state initiatives place Gen 2 based ID card programs into the hands of millions of U.S. citizens and today, Gen 2 technology is inside every U.S. passport ID card as well as every U.S. Green Card.

Uses For Gen 2 ID Cards

With better read range, speed and memory, Gen 2 ID cards are especially beneficial for organizations that would like to:

• Relieve congestion or enable identification where it is impractical to install a short-range ID card reader
• Conveniently support a second form of identity validation, such as biometric and facial recognition
• Provide high throughput entry/exit for convenience and crowd control
• Automatically monitor specific zones and areas
• Associate people with assets
• Combine long-range identification with other shorter-range applications, such as cashless payment or access control
• Identify customers for loyalty and VIP programs to enhance service and customer experience
• Link personal experience with emerging social media platforms, automate “Check-Ins” and virtual “likes”

Long-range ID card reads can relieve crowd congestion by identifying, validating and counting multiple persons simultaneously, making it possible to use larger exits and entryways for facilities. Extended read range is also beneficial when an ID card reader does not afford easy installation at the desired read location. Sometimes it is advantageous to identify a person before he or she reaches a specific point, such as in the U.S. Passport Card program where by the time a Passport Card holder reaches the front of the line, the border control officer’s computer screen already displays their picture and information. This happens as a result of the UHF ID card read that took place several feet prior. In addition to the card data, the ID card photo provides an additional form of identification for the officer to validate the person when checking their credentials.

Gen 2 ID card readers are commonly used in monitoring zones for security and asset management applications. Whenever a tagged item enters or leaves a specific zone, the tracking system records the action and can issue alerts if asset movements are suspicious or fall outside of set guidelines.


Gen 2 ID cards used today for securing U.S. borders can easily be adapted for use within the private sector. Businesses can use long read range contactless ID cards along with biometrics, video surveillance and other security technologies to create a layered high security access control system for their facilities, employees and goods.

In standard contactless access control systems, an RFID reader looks up the unique identification number of an ID card, triggering a database search that determines a cardholder’s access status. Higher security systems transcend basic ID card authorization by retrieving a photo record of the authorized cardholder as in the U.S. Passport Card program. Sophisticated security systems can also direct a digital ID camera to capture an image of persons entering a facilities for identification by biometric technologies such as facial recognition software. Gen 2 allows ID card programing to specify personalized levels of access control so that for example, an employee may have 24-hour access to a building, but will be restricted from entering certain non-authorized areas during all normal working hours. Increased ID card read range provides benefits even when added security is not needed. For many facilities, increased ID card read range simply provides increased convenience. With Gen 2, the system can identify employees as they approach a door so it unlocks just as they arrive, resulting in faster access that surpasses the speed of a system requiring the presentation of ID cards one at a time to a wall-mounted ID card reader.

Long-Range Identification

Area identification coverage can save valuable time and lives during emergencies. RFID is widely used in tracking workers in dangerous environments, though often these monitoring systems use battery powered active RFID tags, which can cost $100 a piece and so being deployed in only select high-risk environments. With the development of standardized Gen 2 technology wireless area monitoring has extended to many additional environments as the ID card readers and ID cards are more affordable.

Gen 2 ID card readers are easily installed both indoors and outdoors, enabling use in diverse applications such as managing workers in hazardous and disaster environments like mines and areas where exposure to chemicals, gases or radioactivity requires monitoring. Workplace regulations limit the amount of time workers can spend in a hazardous environment. These cases are excellent opportunities for installing Gen 2 ID card readers to cover the site and automatically record all entries and exits of authorized personnel, tracking the amount of time they spend in the area and calculate the real time cumulative totals and automatically generate alerts (by e-mail, pager or even alarm) as workers near their time thresholds. A network of ID card readers covering rooms, labs, test facilities, tunnels, mineshafts and other areas can produce a real-time view of employee location information that is invaluable in case of emergency.

The same application principles can also be applied to non-hazardous environments for situations where administrators require accurate, real-time information about the location of people within a building or on a campus, such as at hospitals, assisted living residences, schools, daycare centers and other facilities responsible for the custody and safety of residents, patients, visitors, students and guests.

Schools use Gen 2 staff and student ID cards to take automatic attendance daily, saving time for teachers and office staff by eliminating the need to manually enter attendance data into the computer records system. An automated Gen 2 ID card system’s ability to provide dynamic, up to the minute information is its key benefit. Traditional attendance systems provide a record of who was in the building at the start of the school day, but an RFID system can track people throughout a day or during an evacuation for real-time location information on each student and staff member. RFID ID card readers can monitor classrooms, hallways, playgrounds and other areas.

If students or any other persons attempt to enter restricted areas or leave the campus at unauthorized times alerts can automatically be issued. This visibility can extend to school buses and other vehicles as well to ensure and/or confirm where and when students board and exit the vehicles. RFID wristband and ID card systems are already widely used in hospitals to prevent infant abduction and detect patients wandering from Alzheimer’s and psychiatric wards. RFID ID card systems are installed at prisons and security services to monitor guard locations and they could be incorporated into school security systems as well.

Patron Management And Customer Service

Customer service and patron management applications can greatly benefit from using Gen 2 loyalty ID cards, passes and ID badges. RFID tickets, ID cards and passes are being used increasingly at ski resorts to control access to lifts as well as provide operators with up-to-date information about where skiers are located on a mountain; life saving information in case any avalanches or accidents should occur. In addition, resorts are using RFID technology to enhance the skier experience, enabling them to capture information, connect with fellow skiers and share through social media networks.

Retailers can employ RFID technology similarly to analyze customer ID cardholder data on their locations within a store in order to determine how much time customers spent in various parts, and which types of merchandising and displays seem to be effective. The next level in RFID technology includes building an application that communicates alerts or exception notices triggered when particularly high traffic occurs in a specific area, allowing retailers to deploy resources to these places if necessary. This application is well suited to large retail areas, such as garden centers and warehouse clubs where managers may lack visibility into the entire facility. Real-time customer location data also enable customized interactive marketing campaigns, where ID card reads can trigger in-store multimedia displays or kiosks to promote special offers or services based on customer profiles.

The ability to redeploy staff based on customer or guest locations is also especially valuable to resorts, theme parks, cruise ships, museums, clubs, sports and entertainment venues, exhibit halls, and other service and hospitality environments as well. Businesses can tailor RFID ID card applications to serve VIPs and top customers or for general operations to ensure beverage, food service, merchandise, ticketing and service areas remain adequately staffed.

Asset Protection And Management

This white paper has highlighted how proven RFID applications can be adapted and enhanced by using Gen 2 ID cards. Asset management operations represent some of the best opportunities for improvement with the use of Gen 2 ID card systems. RFID asset tracking applications typically provide complete return on investment (ROI) in less than ten months, the fastest of any application and combining asset management with other applications, such as ID and security reduces the ROI period even more.

Companies can leverage existing asset tagging systems by integrating Gen 2 ID cards so that checked out assets are automatically associated with the people who remove or use them. When the asset tag is read the ID card of the person checking out the item is simultaneously and automatically read with a date stamp applied to the readings thereby associating the asset with the individual who checked it out, building accountability into systems and reducing time spent searching for assets that are already in use.

Document tracking applications can verify the current up-to-the-moment location of important documents at all times. For example Law offices can associate documents with a lawyer’s ID card to assist in time billing, and in courthouses clerks can move documents to the appropriate courtrooms on time, by authorized personnel only. By extending read range from inches to feet, Gen 2 UHF technology increases the potential uses for ID card applications and the convenience and security benefits they provide. However, no technology including Gen 2 is optimal for all ID card systems and user needs. The most effective ID card systems take advantage of capabilities to support the organization’s desired business processes to maximize safety, security and convenience for employees, guests and customers.

Zebra Technologies offers the most robust product line of RFID printers and encoders in the industry, manufacturing and delivering thousands of Zebra ID card printers that support traditional high-frequency RFID encoding. Zebra was the first company to offer Gen 2 encoding integrated on the Zebra ID card printer. UHF-enabled models use the same ID card printer drivers and ID card printer ribbons as non-UHF models. The only requirement for RFID encoded ID card printing is using ID cards with embedded UHF Gen 2 chips, which Zebra also designs, providing a totally complete UHF ID card printing solution.

The cards support all EPCglobal Gen 2 and ISO 18000-6C RFID security standards and provide 96 bits of password-protected memory. Enterprises can use Zebra’s UHF enabled ID card printers to create non-RFID ID cards and maintain all their standard features, including support for magnetic stripe encoding, barcode printing, full-color ID card printing as well as support for a variety of ID card materials.

Email Advantidge today at [email protected] or call 800-965-5932 to learn how you can add UHF Gen 2 technology to your Zebra ID card systems. We provide excellent customer service!

Contactless ID Card Range Extended with Gen 2 – Zebra PDF