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The Truth Behind the RFID Tales

Don't be fooled by wild promises from RFID vendors and integrators. By Susy d'Hont, Marketing Manager, Matrics
By Susy d'Hont
Apr 20, 2002April 20, 2002 - The history of RFID technology is littered with tales of products that were supposed to offer customers tracking nirvana and solve all their logistical woes. Within the last decade, there have been numerous times when star-struck journalists spread stories about a breakthrough that was going to change everything. Consider the following excerpt from a story on Micron's Microstamp from the Feb. 28, 1999 issue of USA Today:

"...The advantage MicroStamp has over bar coding is that its contents can be read from up to 15 feet away, Micron says. Also, the computer chip holds more information. Micron hopes to get MicroStamps on everything from storage containers to Federal Express packages to airline luggage tags."


And this one from a story headlined "Motorola announces BiStatix RFID tag" from March 2, 1999:

"...a powerful new solution that allows the creation of cost-effective `smart labels.' Utilizing BiStatix. . . antennas now can be printed on materials including paper with conductive non-metallic ink. These smart labels contain information that can be both read and modified through a wireless interface, making the BiStatix technology an ideal solution for the tracking and efficient routing of potentially billions of objects . . ."

Based on such stories, respected original equipment manufacturers and integrators invested in partnerships, and hopeful company executives staked their reputations on promises from RFID suppliers. All too often, the hype led to nothing but disappointment. Micron's MicroStamp may have held promise, but the company discontinued its RFID operations just four months after the USA Today story. And Motorola withdrew from the RFID industry and closed down its BiStatix project in 2001, without ever having brought a product to market. It's no wonder potential RFID customers find it hard to believe a word anyone in the RFID industry says now.

It is time for the industry to gain back trust by offering methods to help customers find the truth in RFID performance claims. At Matrics, we strongly recommend that any company who is considering RFID follow these simple steps:

1) Be clear and precise about how you want to use RFID. What do you want to tag? Where do you want to read tags? What are the most important attributes for your application? For example, how do you prioritize such things as read range, read rate, reading tags simultaneously, cost, robustness of tag packaging, and so on?

2) When you contact RFID suppliers, ask to see a demonstration of production level products within the context of your application. There is a tremendously long road between "theory" and "field performance" with this technology. Don't believe any claims until you see the company's product in action.

3) Finally, we believe the industry, particularly standard setting groups, need truly independent third party evaluators to test and report on RFID performance in the context of specific applications.

RFID technology has always held promise. But we have to stop selling the promise and start selling the reality. We have to stop hyping breakthrough solutions that are really still years away. We have to stop raising expectations we can't meet. And most important, we have to start showing that we can deliver very useful automatic identification technology that can benefit many companies.

Susy d'Hont is marketing manager at Matrics, Inc., a Columbia, Maryland, company that offers RFID systems for supply chain applications. She is also chairperson of AIM Global's RFID Market Communications Committee.
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