Although there are many radio links that benefit from a backscatter configuration, a conventional one-way radio link often proves more beneficial. Below are eight beneficial attributes that engineers consider when choosing a backscatter link over a one-way radio link:
Low Power: Backscatter systems can send information from a communications node — either passive or semi-passive tags — with orders-of-magnitude less power consumed than conventional radio links. Backscatter links become attractive when radio nodes are severely limited with respect to power.
Cost: Due to their electronic simplicity and minimal/absent battery, backscatter tags are often much cheaper RF nodes than other forms of radios.
Positioning: The round-trip nature of a backscatter transmission — with an RF wave traveling from reader to tag, then back to reader — provides a true time-of-flight measurement of the channel that is not possible with a conventional radio link. This information can be exploited for precise positioning.
Sensing: The physical attributes of both the link and the backscatter antenna also allow for interesting configurations of RF environmental sensors that are not possible in conventional radio links.
Protocol: Because of its exceptional electronic simplicity, microcontroller-driven RF tags can have details of their communication protocol changed with just a few lines of code, simplifying iterative development for specialized applications. These backscatter applications need not rely on limited existing equipment with hard-coded signaling details such as transmission rate, packet size, header and data details, etc.
Intellectual Property: In a few instances, the backscatter communication link is different enough from inventive claim elements of conventional wireless information transmission to circumvent patented applications that include radio links.
Minimal Maintenance: Passive backscatter tags, in particular, present a minimal maintenance information node in a wireless network that does not require battery monitoring and replacement.
Disposability: The asbsence of a battery for passive tags can reduce a radio to simply a minimally thin antenna element and tiny integrated circuit. With proper design, these low-cost, minimal radios can be disposed at the end of their usages with little cost and negligible environmental impact.
These attributes of backscatter tags may also be cross-linked to one another. For example, incorporating a battery onto an otherwise passive RFID tag increases its cost by over an order-of-magnitude; even if a battery were technically feasible, it would be too costly to use in widescale logistics applications because the purely passive tag is so much cheaper. Thus, lowering power has an even more important cost benefit; likewise, the minimal maintenance and disposability also keep the operating cost of RFID systems very low.