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EPCglobal Puts Item Tagging to the Test

Technology vendors gave demonstrations so EPCglobal could observe the performance of item-level tags and readers operating at different frequencies in seven different use case scenarios.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Mar 29, 2006At a two-day technology demonstration event last week, hosted by EPCglobal, 23 RFID technology vendors used passive tags, operating at the 125 kHz low-frequency (LF), the 13.56 MHz high-frequency (HF) or the 902 to 928 MHz ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) band, to demonstrate seven distinct item-level tracking scenarios. The goal was to determine which frequency bands would be best suited for tagging items—as opposed to cases and pallets—and whether new air-interface protocol standards need to be created to meet the requirements for item-level tagging.

"The amount of effort all the RFID technology vendors put into the event was amazing," says Sue Hutchinson, facilitator for EPCglobal's Item-Level Tagging Joint Requirements Group. "The demonstrations were as realistic as possible."

In total, 150 people attended the event, including representatives from 44 end user companies, who came to observe, and another 30 from EPCglobal's air-interface working group.

"We had a very broad representation of end-user companies," says Hutchinson, "including manufacturers [of consumer-packaged goods and pharmaceuticals], retailers, logistics companies and the Department of Defense. I think it was a pretty representative cross-section of the EPCglobal community."

Hutchinson, who is also director of industry adoption for EPCglobal US, located in Lawrenceville, N.J., says, "In terms of meeting our objectives, it was a really great event because it let us do apple-to-apple comparisons and expose end users to what is possible [in using the different frequency tags to track items]."

The next step for the item-level tagging requirements group is to work with EPCglobal's air-interface working group to collate and analyze the results of the 56 demonstrations that took place during the event. These demonstrations were comprised of seven use-case scenarios involving the identification or commissioning of tags at the item level (see EPCglobal Focuses on Item-Level Tagging). The items included apparel, DVDs and drug containers. The use cases included reading tags attached to the items as they were moved through dock-door readers or past a point-of-purchase terminal, or while stationary on a shelf or hanger. One test also included reading a collection of tagged goods with tags oriented randomly in regard to the interrogator's antenna—such as a quantity of drug vials in a plastic tote. Some of the technology vendors provided demonstrations of the use-case scenarios with both HF and UHF tags and readers. Hutchinson says that in the second week of April, EPCglobal expects to disclose the results and provide a roadmap for how the company will proceed based on those test results.

"These recommendations could take the form of new guidelines for using existing air-interface protocols, or they could be to develop a new air-interface protocol," says Hutchinson. Until the analysis of the results is complete, however, she says she cannot provide any direct feedback on the demonstrations, or on the performance of tags in particular frequencies. "We like to be as data-driven as possible," she explains.

The Item-Level Tagging Joint Requirements Group is made up of 10 members of EPCglobal's Healthcare and Life Sciences Business Action Group, 10 from the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods Business Action Group and 10 from the Hardware Action Group, which turns user requirements into specifications for standards. The committee was set up because some end users had concerns about the performance of tags on items, and about such issues as security and privacy.

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