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The Great RFID Divide

Some of the biggest companies in the world are clamoring for low-cost RFID systems. But vendors don't want to invest in developing them.
By Mark Roberti
Jun 17, 2002June 17, 2002 - The other day, I got an e-mail from a subscriber who wanted me to know that he felt his subscription "has already paid for itself." It's the kind of note that every editor and entrepreneur loves to receive. It makes all the hard work and struggle needed to launch on new publication worthwhile.

The gentleman said that he works for a company that makes a product that could greatly benefit from integration with radio frequency identification. Problem is, another person in his company is convinced that low-cost RFID won't be used to track individual items "in his lifetime." My correspondent has been using articles from RFID Journal to bolster his own case that low-cost RFID is not that far away, and apparently, he's winning the argument.

I suspect that this debate is not unique to the subscriber's company. I bet it is being played out at companies around the world. Just as in the early days of the World Wide Web, there are those who can see the opportunities and there are those who only see the obstacles. (Kevin Ashton of the Auto-ID Center likes to say: "Those who say it can't be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it.")

There is, in fact, a great divide in the RFID world. On the one hand, vendors are fairly dismissive of the Auto-ID Center's efforts to create low-cost RFID tags and a global network for sharing information about products. When I asked the CEO of a company that makes RFID readers why he hadn't joined the Auto-ID Center, he told me: "That's pie in the sky stuff. I have to deal with the real world that exists today."

On the other side of the divide stands companies like Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and Unilever. They are pushing vendors to create low-cost tags, funding the Auto-ID Center to develop the global RFID network, and practically forcing big software companies to develop systems for using data that will one day soon come from readers tracking individual products.

SAP was asked to join the Auto-ID Center by P&G and other customers. In less than a year, the software company has developed intelligent agents that act on real-time data from RFID tags on individual products. Bob Betts, SAP's senior VP for global supply chain told me: "The reason we are moving so fast is because are customers are pushing us so hard."

It seems strange to me that you have some of the biggest companies in the world clamoring for low-cost RFID systems that will enable them to track individual items. And you have RFID vendors that don't want to invest in developing the technology.

The gap not only can be bridged; it will be bridged by startups. Next week I'll explain why that's inevitable.

Mark Roberti is the Editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article or submit your own, send e-mail to mroberti@rfidjournal.com.
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