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HP, Sun and IBM in big RFID push

Sun, IBM and Hewlett-Packard have all announced plans to push radio frequency identification technologies to their customers.

HP has set up two RFID partnerships and plans to invest $150m (£83m) over the next five years on RFID projects. HP has deployed its own RFID products at 28 of its factories and is also supplying RFID technology to Wal-Mart, a leading adopter of RFID technology.

"We've gone to a lot of our customers and found they're looking for an RFID partner or someone to implement RFID for them," said HP spokeswoman Dayna Fried.

RFID integrates small computer chips and antennas on a paper or plastic label, which can then be read by an electronic scanner. Unlike barcodes, RFID chips withstand dirt and scratches and can be scanned from over 7.5 metres away.

HP has also expanded an agreement with BearingPoint to allow the two companies to work together on RFID products designed to lower inventory costs and improve management for customers in the retail industry. HP will provide the infrastructure technology, including HP ProLiant servers, Unix HP Superdome servers and HP StorageWorks technology, while BearingPoint will provide assessment, consulting and systems integration support, business process and change management services, and other retail knowledge.

HP also announced a partnership with RFID software supplier OatSystems to launch an RFID Industrial Strength (RFID/IS) platform. RFID/IS aims to capture RFID data and track goods across an extended supply chain while giving centralised control of an RFID network. The product is targeted at the car, consumer packaged goods, pharmaceutical, consumer electronics, retail and high-tech industries.

IBM is to invest $250m over the next five years on sensor and actuator products, often used in RFID products, as well as industrial automation technologies.

IBM also said it would offer a new WebSphere-based RFID product by the end of this year. This middleware is designed to let customers collect, integrate and manage data obtained from RFID tags and readers from customers' distribution centres and stores.

IBM RFID architect Rainer Kerth said organisations such as Wal-Mart and the US Department of Defense were driving the investment. Both organisations are requiring major suppliers to use RFID tags next year.

"We see RFID as a significant software and services opportunity," Kerth said.

And finally, Sun has announced more RFID products, including the Sun RFID offering for iForce Partners, the Sun RFID retail compliance programme, and RFID warehouse management software.

A key part of Sun's RFID for iForce is the Sun Java System RFID Software Toolkit, designed to simplify the creation of RFID device adapters, which let RFID readers communicate with Sun Java's RFID software. Customers can use the toolkit to integrate their RFID readers and other devices with Sun Java or to build custom device adapters for RFID deployments.

Sun RFID for iForce will give participants access to the latest news, documents, software downloads and toolkits to assist in developing and marketing Sun Java RFID software. It will also let companies work with Sun on customer pilot programmes and deployments using Sun's RFID test centres.

Sun has worked with SIS Technologies and SSA Global to deliver an RFID warehouse management solution. The product is designed to help manufacturers and distributors reduce costs and improve efficiency by automating expensive manual processes such as inventory tracking and management.

Grant Gross writes for IDG News Service


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