Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is at the core of FASTag, the flagship initiative of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) for implementing electronic toll collection across the national highways in India. It is aimed at ensuring cashless transactions at toll plazas, resulting in a near non-stop movement of traffic and hence, decongesting and streamlining the entire process of toll collection.
The RFID technology uses an Electronic Produce Code (EPC) through which every vehicle can be uniquely identified. This code is different from the vehicle's registration number and exclusive to it on a global scale. Each EPC code, which is a 13-digit number, in the RFID-FASTag is issued by GS1 India, a standards body, which ensures that each code is unique and in sync with the global standards put in place, in order for correct product identification. Which in the case of FASTag, is a vehicle. The code needs to be standardized in order to ensure that the data coded inside is not read differently at different levels.
"Radio Frequency Identification technology is essentially a data capture technology, much like barcoding," says Ravi Mathur, CEO, GS1 India.
However, unlike barcoding, which uses a pattern of black bars and white spaces, in which the information is coded, an RFID tag uses a small electronic chip for the same which is surrounded by an antenna. Also, unlike the barcode, an RFID tag does not need to be very close to the reader or, even in the line of sight of the same. One just simply has to be within a reading distance from the scanner.
A FASTag has what is called a passive RFID chip as it does not contain its own battery. It is energized only when the beam from the scanner strikes it. At a toll plaza, when a vehicle comes within a certain radius, the scanner is able to send out the signals and read the tag which means, the identification code of the vehicle. Since a FASTag is pre-charged with money, it hits the payment that is inside the tag and deducts the toll amount. All of this is done in an automated way, without the vehicle stopping, or the toll operator touching the tag itself.
Though the RFID technology is superior to that of barcoding, one cannot be substituted with the other. "There is a finite cost that is associated with the RFID technology. It would not make sense to put a Rs 150 RFID tag on a packet of bread which cost Rs 30" highlights Mathur. RFID technology should be used where the cost of what we are aiming at tracking/identifying is high.
National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI) ensures the data security in the case of RFID-FASTag. They have proper IT infrastructure with backend servers in a place where all the data is captured. A FASTag user need not worry about data security since the RFID technology does not identify an individual.
The RFID technology, for electronic toll collection, has reached Indian shores comparatively quite late. "Because we started so late with the RFID technology, we are actually ahead of the world," says Mathur. Internationally, RFID technology has been in use for electronic toll collection for a long time. However, standardization of the code came much later. So, in their case, all use a different system and hence, for the same vehicle, you need different tags for different places. In India however, since we were a late adopter of this technology, most importantly, post the introduction of standards, we can have one tag, one code, which gives us a big advantage