EPCglobal, the standards-setting body for the radio frequency identification (RFID) tag industry, has selected VeriSign to maintain the key electronic product codes (EPC) that could, eventually, identify billions of products.
But, VeriSign, EPCglobal officials and analysts said Wal-Mart Stores has no plans to use the EPCglobal Network and Object Naming Service (ONS), which VeriSign will operate for EPCglobal.
EPCglobal is a joint venture between Uniform Code Council in the US and EAN International in Brussels.
Wal-Mart's position is important because the retailer has told its top 100 suppliers that it wants them to use RFID tags on cases and pallets by January 2005.
John Brendsel, director of EPC network services at VeriSign, said Wal-Mart's suppliers do not have to use ONS at this time to meet that company's RFID mandate.
While VeriSign expects manufacturers and retailers to use web-based services to access the ONS database, Gartner analyst Jeff Woods said Wal-Mart wants its suppliers to communicate RFID data over its RetailLink extranet and electronic data interchange systems.
Brian Matthews, vice president for directory services at VeriSign, said the EPCglobal Network and the naming service will work much like the Domain Name System VeriSign now operates. When a case or pallet - and eventually an item - passes an RFID scanner, the scanner will look up the EPC code contained in the tag on the "root" ONS run by VeriSign, Matthews said.
That root directory contains metadata on the product code information. The directory then points to more detailed information on local ONS servers maintained by manufacturers, Matthews said.
This structure - much like the internet - will be able to accommodate growth, as more retailers incorporate RFID tags into their supply chain, Matthews said.
Although he could not predict the eventual scale of the ONS, Jack Grasso, a spokesman for EPCglobal, said that five billion barcoded items are now scanned every day. RFID tags are expected to replace bar codes on products.
VeriSign will host ONS at the 13 data centres it operates globally for DNS, Matthews said, and EPCglobal will pay VeriSign for the service. Neither company would discuss prices.
EPCglobal will pay for the operation of ONS from the fees it charges its members.
Bob Brewin writes for Computerworld