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Another Year of Progress

RFID technology continues to mature, but has not yet crossed the chasm.
By Mark Roberti
Dec 16, 2013

For the past few years, in my last column of each year, I have described the previous 12 months as a year of progress (see 2012: A Year of Progress and The Year That Was). As unexciting as it might be, 2013 was another year of progress for the RFID industry. There were some important developments, but no major game-changing events.

The year started off with the news that Marks & Spencer was planning to move toward tagging all non-food items within its stores (see Marks & Spencer Rolls Out RFID to All Its Stores). That was a very positive sign of RFID technology advancements. There are items, such as cosmetics and perfume, that have been challenging to tag, but M&S clearly felt that progress in tag design had reached a level at which it could tag just about everything.

At RFID Journal LIVE!, held in April in Orlando, Fla., new products were introduced, including Impinj's xArray antenna, which won our RFID Journal Award for Best in Show (see RFID Gets xArray Vision). Overhead antennas will become more common during the coming years, as businesses seek to have better real-time inventory and rely on real-time reads, rather than tracking what passed through a portal on its way into or out of an area.

During the course of the year, we saw additional retailers announcing that they were using RFID. These included Saks Fifth Avenue (see Saks' RFID Deployment Ensures Thousands of Shoes Are on Display), Bon-Ton (see Bon-Ton Brings NFC to Shoe Displays), European online retailer Vente-privee.com (see RFID Speeds Up Preparations for Flash Sales), Brazil's Grupo Pão-de-Açúcar (see Brazilian Supermarket Operator Improves Logistics, Inventory Accuracy), Sicilian fine jewelry retailer Matranga (see High-End Sicilian Jeweler Tags Inventory, Recoups Investment) and Dutch shoe retailer De Wolky Shop (see De Wolky Shop Reduces Stock-Outs, Boosts Sales With RFID).

There were also a plethora of companies using RFID for more offbeat applications, such as identifying breast implants, monitoring roadbed stress, and tracking canoes and kayaks racing at this year's Canoe Marathon World Championships, held in Copenhagen, Denmark (see Breast-Implant Maker Markets RFID-enabled Products, Services, RFID Takes the Strain Out of Testing Minnesota's Roadbeds and RFID Brings Canoe Competition to Spectators).

In addition, there were significant developments outside of new deployments and products. Last month, GS1, which oversees the Electronic Product Code (EPC) standards, ratified EPC Gen2v2, a new version of the ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID standard (see GS1 Ratifies EPC Gen2v2, Adds Security Features, More Memory). EPC Gen2v2 provides a series of features intended to improve security and deter the counterfeiting of tagged products by enabling the authentication of a tag or reader, and includes privacy features for consumers, as well as a way for embedded tags to identify themselves as such to an RFID interrogator. This should open some new and exciting RFID applications, and also enable retailers to get more value from the technology since it can be used for electronic article surveillance, as well as for managing inventory.

And a cloud was lifted over UHF RFID deployments when some of the leading passive UHF solution providers signed licensing agreements with Round Rock Research, a non-practicing entity (sometimes referred to as a patent-assertion entity or "patent troll") that earns revenue solely by licensing and enforcing its patents. Round Rock had sued some users of passive UHF technology, which caused several firms to keep their use of RFID private, and might also have caused some to delay deployments. The issue is not completely resolved, since not every provider of UHF technology has settled with Round Rock, but many have done so, enabling end users to choose from a variety of RFID providers without worrying that they, too, will be sued by Round Rock if they implement the technology (see Avery Dennison, Alien Technology and Invengo Sign Licensing Deals With Round Rock, Motorola Solutions, Smartrac Settle Patent Litigation by Round Rock and What the Round Rock Settlements Mean).

So overall, it was another year of steady progress, and we are marching toward the tipping point. In my next column, I will discuss what I predict will happen in 2014. In the meantime, I wish all of our readers a wonderful holiday and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.

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