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Wal-Mart pushes RFID adoption

Daniel Thomas
Radio frequency identification technology received a massive boost last week, when retail giant Wal-Mart announced it is going to direct its top 100 suppliers to have all their cases and pallets tagged by 1 January 2005.

RFID tags, which allow goods to be electronically tracked along the supply chain, have been gaining popularity, but the backing of Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is likely to be a trigger for widespread adoption.

"The top 100 Wal-Mart suppliers will use something like eight billion tags a year," said Pete Abell, analyst at AMR Research. "Wal-Mart is doing this the way it did barcodes."

In a further boost for RFID, Microsoft last week said it plans to join Auto-ID, the not-for-profit body set up to create a standard - known as the Electronic Product Code - for the technology.

UK users said the creation of the EPC standard, which will be formalised in September, together with support from influential companies such as Wal-Mart, will see RFID use becoming more widespread.

"Once standards are established and the big players, such as Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble, adhere to them, others will follow," said Peter Jordan, director of IS strategic projects at food manufacturer Kraft Foods. "One of the keys to the EPC standard is that it offers a migration from other RFID standards and older systems, such as the barcode."

In a related development, security technology provider RSA Labs last week revealed it has filed patents on two applications designed to overcome privacy fears relating to RFID.

Ari Juels, principal research analyst at RSA, said a "blocker" tag, which would disable the ability of readers to read tags once goods have been paid for, and "pseudonym throttling", which means tags would only be readable every few seconds, would boost consumer confidence in RFID.

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