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AT&T Plans Managed RFID Services

The company will soon launch a trial of its new services, including the design, implementation and management of RFID networks.
By Jonathan Collins
Sep 16, 2005AT&T has announced plans to offer managed services for companies deploying RFID infrastructure. The former telecom giant, soon to be part of SBC Communications, says five of its customers will participate in a trial of planned offerings in the first quarter of next year.

In order to offer such managed services, AT&T says it will team up with as-yet unnamed RFID hardware, software and services suppliers. Considering its background in network management and managed services, the company believes it is well placed to capitalize on the growing demand from companies, both large and small, that don't want the upfront expense of buying and deploying their own RFID network.

Eric Shepcaro, AT&T
"Customers are looking for end-to-end, managed, integrated and hosted RFID services," says Eric Shepcaro, VP of business strategy and development at AT&T. "We have spoken to a lot of prospective customers, and we think now the time is right, as RFID technology and standards are maturing."

AT&T says it will manage the design and implementation of RFID networks, as well as the deployment and integration of necessary middleware and software to operate the network. The company has developed its own RFID network and data management infrastructure and applications to host its customers' RFID networks. AT&T’s managed offering will include network integration and consulting, IP transport, hosting, data storage, managed applications and security services.

Starting at the end of this year, the company will reportedly launch a 90-day trial of its new RFID services, by designing, deploying and managing a network of several dozen readers for each of its five customers. "There are three things we want to prove in the trials," says Paul Digiacomo, AT&T’s director of business strategy and emerging opportunities. "That AT&T and its partners can assess, design and implement infrastructure at the client premises; that we have the ability to manage and troubleshoot RFID equipment network components and on the back end; and that we have the ability to capture, store and share the data collected."

After the trial's conclusion, the results will be incorporated into the planned offerings, but no date has been set for their commercial release. AT&T states that for RFID network services, its customers will be charged per megabyte of data on the network, and per each stored transaction (recorded tag read) for its managed RFID infrastructure at the customer premises.

AT&T currently provides managed services for corporate LANs and wireless LANs (WLANs), as well as other equipment and applications. During the RFID trial, two of AT&T's 28 Internet data centers will support the new RFID applications. However, the company maintains there is still work for RFID hardware vendors to do before it can manage RFID networks in the same way it currently manages corporate LANs and WLANs.

"RFID is at a different stage of technical maturity than a WLAN. The ability to manage hundreds, if not thousands, of readers through automated systems and networks is a new requirement to vendors. Some vendors have focused on Simple Network Management Protocol [SNMP], and some have not, so we are working with them to help factor that in," says Shepcaro. SMNP is used to monitor and control network devices.

AT&T also announced it has joined EPCglobal US, and that its network architecture will support the EPCglobal Network's planned architecture. This will include the EPC Information Service (EPC IS) that enables companies to store data associated with EPCs in secure databases on the Web.

As RFID deployments get larger, AT&T asserts, interest is growing for managed services. "Now, CIOs, as they see success of their pilots, are beginning to ask the question: What happens when I start to put hundreds of these devices on my network?" Digiacomo says.

AT&T's initial offerings will focus on three main RFID markets: contactless payment services; asset tracking and management; and security applications across manufacturing, transportation, retail and government markets.

Earlier this year, BT and Microsoft announced similar plans (see Microsoft, BT to Develop RFID Services). Meanwhile, Unisys revealed it already had customers for its managed RFID services (see Unisys Manages RFID for Thomasville).
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