The Basic Differences Between AM and RF

  |   Blog, EAS

uss_rf_am_technology_articleRF (radio frequency) and AM (acousto-magnetic) are two of the most popular EAS technologies in retail. Is one better than the other? Let’s take a look at the basic differences.


AM Systems, Labels and Tags

AM systems operate at the frequency of 58 kHz. The pedestals are typically installed 6 feet apart, with some systems (notably USS’ Raven system) having an extendable range to 9 feet. AM systems’ antennas can be customized to a retailer’s specifications: they can be wall-mounted or hidden in walls or floors. The AM technology is less prone to ambient interference than RF technology. AM systems are widely used by apparel, sporting goods and hardware retailers.


AM hard tags are available in many different form factors, while the labels are limited to a few. The labels are made of plastic, and are thicker than RF labels, which are made of paper.


RF Systems, Labels and Tags

RF systems operate at the frequency of 8.2 MHz. They cannot be spaced more than 6 feet apart. The systems can be sensitive to nearby neon signs, overhead fluorescent lights and other electric interference. For this reason, extra care is needed during installation, tuning and testing.


RF hard tags are offered in many different form factors, and soft labels are offered in many different shapes and sizes. The variety of RF labels makes them perfect for food and drug packaging. They are ultra-thin and, once applied, cannot easily be removed. Manufactured from paper, the labels are disposable, which translates to reduced cost for retailers – often pennies per label.


RF labels are a good option in cases where retailers must show proof of ownership of stolen merchandise. The Ninja Label from USS even contains a patented “leave behind” tattoo impression that makes for easy identification of an item in the event of theft. The Ninja Label can be customized with a retailer’s name or logo in the center to serve as an identifying marker. Once the label is applied, the name or logo is indelibly imprinted on the product. No other RF label currently available offers this unique feature.

Advantages of AM technology:

  • Extended detecting distance
  • More resistant to ambient noise
  • Systems can be customized for concealment in walls and floors


Advantages of RF technology:

  • Labels are available in a variety of shapes and sizes
  • Labels are available with a customized ORC deterrent
  • Highly suitable for food and drug retailers


AM and RF are both proven technologies. For simplicity sake, a retailer will choose one system for their entire chain. However, antennas, tags and labels do not have to be from the same manufacturer – AM antennas from one manufacturer will work with AM tags and labels from another. The same is the case with the RF products.


What is the future of EAS systems? Most likely, the integration of RFID — Radio Frequency Identification — which will enable retailers to exploit the full potential of EAS tags and labels beyond loss prevention. But that’s a subject for a future article.