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MET Labs to Test Gen 2 Hardware

EPCglobal chooses MET Laboratories to conduct hardware conformance and interoperability testing once EPCglobal ratifies its Generation 2 standards specification.
By Mary Catherine O’Connor
Oct 07, 2004EPCglobal, the nonprofit organization charged with promoting the adoption of Electronic Product Code (EPC) technology, announced last week that Baltimore-based MET Laboratories will serve as the official partner for the EPCglobal Hardware Certification program to develop and manage RFID hardware certification testing for the Generation 2 Class 1 EPCglobal standards, which should be set later this year.

MET Laboratories provides extensive RFID testing and consulting services for manufacturers and consumers of RFID products and systems. The company’s director of RFID programs, Gaylon Morris, says that under the agreement with EPCglobal, MET Labs will conduct the testing to ensure that products conform to the Generation 2 EPCglobal standard. Sue Hutchinson, director of product development for EPCglobal US, in Lawrenceville, N.J., says EPCglobal will create a seal that manufacturers will be able to use for qualifying products to indicate conformance with the EPCglobal Gen 2 standards. MET Laboratories will also conduct interoperability tests that will reveal which products manufactured by different vendors are interoperable within the laboratory test setting.

EPCglobal's Hutchinson
Because neither EPCglobal or MET Laboratories can account for RF interference issues or setting configurations within end-user facilities, the interoperability tests will be intended as guidelines rather than guarantees of which products will work together in end user’s facilities. The only way to ensure interoperability, says Hutchinson, will be for end users to conduct pilot programs with specific products. End users will, however, be able to reference documents showing the results of the interoperability tests conducted by MET Laboratories. These will appear on the EPCglobal Web site.

Once the Generation 2 standards are approved (see Gen 2 Moves Closer to Approval) by EPCglobal’s board of governors, MET Laboratories technology partner, Cetecom Spain, will develop the EPCglobal Hardware Certification program’s RFID conformance test system. Cetecom Spain has developed test systems for other wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and GSM/GPRS. The Gen 2 hardware testing program will consist of four components. These components include two conformity tests (radio frequency testing, followed by protocol testing) and two interoperability tests (called “hardware interoperability phase I” and “hardware interoperability phase II”). In phase I, the manufacturers’ engineers will be allowed to “make fixes on the fly,” says Hutchinson, comparing this phase to a beta testing session. The phase II testing, however, will be more formal. The manufacturer’s role here would be more like a candidate defending a thesis.

Only products manufactured by EPCglobal member companies will qualify for testing. These companies will need to pay EPCglobal a fee for the testing, but the pricing structure has not yet been set. Scheduling for the four different sets of tests has also not yet been set, though Hutchinson says it will probably happen on a periodic schedule so that manufacturers of new products can plan release timelines.

One year ago, EPCglobal began an open request for proposal (RFP) process to find a global third-party testing partner. MET Laboratories was chosen from an undisclosed number of entrants from around the world. In August 2004, MET Laboratories provided hardware interoperability phase I testing for providers of solutions based on EPCglobal Generation 1 (Class 0 and 1) protocols. During this test, manufacturers evaluated the interoperability of their Generation 1 RFID readers and tags with those provided by other manufacturers. Those test results are posted on the EPCglobal site at www.epcglobalinc.org/interoperability.
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