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Next Up: A Passive UHF Reader in Your Phone

Apple's embrace of NFC means all new phones will have an RFID reader—but they also need to be able to read Electronic Product Codes.
By Mark Roberti
Sep 22, 2014

The addition of Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to Apple's new iPhone is a big deal, because it will move NFC a step closer to being the de facto standard for electronic payments (see An iPhone With NFC—at Last!). I believe consumers also will need a passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) radio frequency identification reader in their mobile phones, in order to be able to read tags on products and obtain pricing and other information.

This will not happen quickly—but I believe it will happen. It's difficult for me to believe that billions of items would be tagged with passive UHF RFID transponders based on the Electronic Product Code (EPC) standard, and yet smartphones wouldn't be able to read those tags.

I know what you're thinking: Phones don't read bar codes. That may be true, but the world is changing, technology is changing and shopping is changing. Consumers are used to going online, clicking on an item and viewing options for different colors, sizes and styles. They are also used to buying stuff online and increasingly on their phone.

So in the future, a consumer will be able to enter a store, read a garment's EPC via his or her phone, obtain information about that item and try it on. It might be possible to pay via a website or a retailer's custom application right there in front of the dressing room mirror, or to use NFC to pay at the point of sale.

If a customer pays via the Web or using a retailer's app, the system would know the item's EPC (since he or she had read the EPC using the phone). Therefore, after payment has been made, the retailer's database would be updated to indicate that, for instance, a dress with serial number E80R293MN00032 has been purchased. The consumer would then be able to walk out of the store carrying the item, because the RFID reader at the exit would know it had been paid for.


Jinho Ko 2014-09-26 02:01:24 AM
Let me add one more thing. An RFID reader-enabled phone will be able to get various sensor data from sensor tagged things or wearable devices near the phone.
Joost Kroes 2014-09-26 02:45:27 AM
Hi Mark! Good point about the UHF reader in phones. But I'm wondering if we won't first see a convergence of NFC and UHF (single chip supporting both frequencies) which will be able to support both the consumer and the industry needs. What are your thoughts on that?
Carrie Requist 2014-10-02 02:26:10 PM
Great to see RFID industry leadership promoting mass use of UHF RFID leveraging smartphone ease of use and ubiquity. U Grok It supports your belief in democratizing UHF RFID by pushing the technology down-market to small and medium businesses and ultimately consumers.

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