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Living in the Time of FUD

Some companies will spread fear, uncertainty and doubt as Gen 2 products hit the market.
By Mark Roberti
Tags: Standards
Apr 09, 2005This week, end users will get a sneak preview of products based on the second-generation Electronic Product Code standard at RFID Journal LIVE! 2005. Seattle-based fabless semiconductor company Impinj and its partners will show of tags that will be read by Gen 2-upgraded readers developed by AWID, Intermec, SAMSys and ThingMagic. That's very exciting. I'm frankly looking forward to seeing the new tags and readers, which should start hitting the market by the end of this quarter.

But I'm also concerned that the new technology will be susceptible to a well-known tactic called FUD. The term, which is familiar to our readers with an IT background, stands for fear, uncertainty and doubt. When a new technology comes along, a company that is slow to market or has a marginal product uses its public relations department and sales machine to spread FUD, to freeze the market until it can get in with a high-quality product. End users become afraid to invest in the new technology, which gives the company time to catch up. When the company finally has a product ready, it declares its product the thing that's needed to end the uncertainty and deliver value.

Gen 2 seems particularly susceptible to FUD. One reason is that many of the 60-odd technology companies that agreed on the standard are now in a race to get product to market. The ones that are slow, or whose engineering can't produce a good product, might try to discourage end users from investing in Gen 2 products.

Another reason is that the standard is complex and not well understood by end users or journalists who cover RFID part-time. As we explain in our two-part special report Understanding the EPC Gen 2 Protocol, there are three modes of operation for Gen 2 readers: single-reader mode, multi-reader mode and dense-reader mode. A reader could be capable of operating only in single-reader mode and still be considered a Gen 2 reader.

There also are many other new features in the standard, including sessions, the Q algorithm and secure read-write memory. The first tags and readers to hit the market might not support all of these improvements, leaving their performance and the Gen 2 standard open to criticism—and FUD.

Our aim is to cut through the FUD and present information you can rely on. In the next issue of RFID Journal magazine, we have a feature on Gen 1 readers, which includes information about upgrading to Gen 2. And here, we raise the issues you need to be aware of—and the questions you need to ask—as you look to purchase readers.

1. Is it really Gen 2 compliant? Many press releases will make this claim. But no product is compliant until EPCglobal publishes a compliance test and the product has been certified by Met Labs, the company EPCglobal has chosen to do these tests. EPCglobal says it expects to have a compliance test ready when tags and readers hit the market.

2. Does it support dense reader mode? Readers can be certified as compliant for operation in single-reader mode, multi-reader mode and dense-reader mode. Don't assume a reader can operate in dense-reader mode just because it is certified as Gen 2 compliant.

3. Can it be upgraded to support Gen 2, including dense reader mode? If you already have Gen 1 readers, or you plan to buy Gen 1 readers, find out whether they need a firmware upgrade only to support dense-reader mode and other enhancements in the Gen 2 protocol, or whether you also need a hardware upgrade. Firmware upgrades are far less expensive if they can be done remotely over the network. Sending technicians out to change the hardware on each installed reader can get expensive.

Don't assume Gen 1 technology is obsolete. No doubt, many people will say that you should not buy Gen 1 technology today because everyone is moving to Gen 2. But it will take time for vendors to ramp up production of Gen 2 products. There's no reason to put off deployments—as long as you purchase Gen 1 readers that can be upgraded to Gen 2 cost effectively.

And don't judge the Gen 2 protocol too quickly. If you buy the first tags and readers to hit the market and they don't deliver the higher data transfer rates and all the bells and whistles, don't assume the problem is with the protocol. It will take vendors time to fine-tune reader firmware to maximize data transfer rates and support some of the advanced features. My fear is that someone will assume the protocol itself is bad, will mention that to a journalist who is only interested in a sexy story and not the truth, and we'll see articles in the mainstream business saying: "Gen 2 Is a Dog."

Our research indicates that end users will benefit from the advanced features of the protocol. And because many vendors will create products based on it, prices will be competitive, and there will be pressure for technology providers to innovate. Eventually, the companies that deliver good products will separate themselves from those that do not. In the meantime, beware of FUD.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below.
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