Feature

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology: the expert view

Metro

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology enables remote and automated gathering and sending of information between RFID tags or transponders and readers using a wireless link.

RFID is a technology that IT departments must be aware of because they will need to upgrade their infrastructure to cope with it. Three areas must be addressed: data management, network and end-user device management, and sensor management. And all three elements must be tied together and integrated with legacy systems.

One of the major advantages of radio-frequency identification is that information exchange between tags and readers is rapid, automatic and does not require direct contact or line of sight. RFID readers may be handheld units or fixed units connected to a remote computer system.

An RFID tag typically consists of an integrated circuit for handling data and an antenna for receiving and transmitting a radio frequency signal. RFID tag information can range from a unique identity number to thousands of bytes of data.

The range and performance of an RFID system depends on a number of factors. These include operating frequency, power output of the reader, size of the tag's antenna, material composition of the item carrying the tag, and whether the tag is active or passive.

Passive RFID tags depend on energy from the reader, but active RFID tags have their own battery power for operating the integrated circuit and sending a signal, giving them longer read ranges.

RFID has been in use since the 1940s, but has risen to prominence only in recent years as the technology has matured.

The enormous potential business value of RFID-enabled systems has emerged as read rates have improved, accuracy has increased, RFID tag prices have dropped, and data transmission, storage and analysis systems have reached maturity.

RFID increases the speed and accuracy with which items can be tracked and managed, making supply chain management the most obvious application for realising business value.

The ultimate vision for RFID is to improve visibility in global supply chains, but this will require interoperability between tags and readers around the word. For this reason, developing and using international standards is important.

The two main standards organisations governing RFID standards on frequencies, protocols and applications are the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and EPCglobal

Within ISO, BSI British Standards is the National Standards Body of the UK and develops standards and standardization solutions to meet the needs of business and society. They work with government, businesses and consumers to represent UK interests and facilitate the production of British, European and international standards.

One of the biggest challenges facing standards organisations is that there is no global public body that governs the frequencies used for RFID. In principle, every country can set its own rules. This highlights the importance of international collaboration in realising global supply chain visibility.

RFID is reaching a point where forward-thinking companies are aware of it. The problem is that they are still trying to see how their businesses can benefit from the technology and gain a return on investment.

RFID pioneers include Wal-Mart, Tesco and Metro in retail and consumer goods, Hong Kong and San Francisco airports for baggage handling, Marks and Spencer for clothes labelling, DHL for asset tracking and logistics and the US Department of Defense and Wal-Mart for driving supplier adoption.

The most controversial use of RFID is the inclusion of RFID tags in passports issued by many countries, including the UK, US, Australia and Malaysia. This has raised security and privacy concerns about unauthorised tracking of RFID tags.

Other current uses of RFID include product tracking, hospital patient identification, asset tracking and security, animal identification, automotive security, car licences, access systems, and public transport payment systems.


RFID news

6 July 2007: BAA to RFID-tag taxis to boost Terminal 5 security

4 July 2007: BT to deliver support services for Unisys's global network operations

28 June 2007: Metro deploys Europe's largest RFID rollout

21 June 2007: Firms offered new RFID testing centre

21 June 2007: Mobile applications get on-demand push

15 June 2007: US military awards new RFID contract to Unisys

14 June 2007: BAA cuts waiting times with taxi management system

23 May 2007: Marks & Spencer to spend £450m on supply chain revamp


RFID links

RFID asset tracking

GS1UK

EPCglobal

AIM

RFID on Wikipedia


RFID blogs

The benefits of RFID will soon be realised

Tune into RFID: David Bicknell's RFID blog


RFID video

RFID technology

RFID IBM commercial

 

RFID Passport shield failure demo


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This was first published in August 2007

 

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