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RFID End-User Council Focuses on Electronic Products

Best Buy, Sears, HP and other retailers and manufacturers will explore RuBee and other alternative RFID technologies.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 27, 2006To help product manufacturers and retailers of consumer electronic products deploy RFID technology successfully, Manufacturing Insights, a research and advisory division of IDC, has launched the RFID Executive Council. The council's members include Best Buy, Sears and Hewlett-Packard (HP).

Pete Abell, Manufacturing Insight's program director of radio frequency (RF) sensor network research, is serving as the council's chairman. He says the council's members will focus on complementary RFID technologies, such as those based on the RuBee protocol. RuBee-based RFID devices, Abell says, are slower than UHF when reading but similar in speed when writing to a tag and "very unique in that it is a peer-to-peer type protocol, which means that tags can talk to other tags."

Frank Lanza
Best Buy is seeking RFID compliance from suppliers without a mandate, but nearly all products in the company's inventory contain metal, which can interfere with the RF transmissions of the passive UHF EPC RFID tags and interrogators it and other retailers currently use to track cases and pallets of merchandise. To get around this problem, Best Buy and other retailers are considering the use of RuBee-based RFID systems, which utilize 132 kHz RF signals composed mostly of magnetic waves, instead of electric. This allows the tag data to pass more easily through obstructions such as metal and liquid (see Visible Assets Promotes RuBee Tags for Tough-to-Track Goods).

"They have to have technology that works around metal," Abell says, adding that Best Buy has spent "multiple millions of dollars" to investigate RFID options, and "brought in everything under the sun in their lab to find the ROI for them." The results of their research are of special interest to the council, says Abell, since many manufacturers and retailers face similar problems with their own products containing metals or liquids.

One of these manufacturers, Hewlett-Packard, has been researching RFID solutions that would allow it to tag its products and still have a read rate just under 100 percent. The printer cartridges HP makes and sells contain metal and/or liquid. Nonetheless, through proper placement of tags and the use of EPC Gen 2 technology, HP has been able to achieve near-100 percent read rates.

"We have a lot to offer the council," by way of RFID testing experience, says Frank Lanza, director of HP's worldwide RFID program, "But maybe we don't have to do all the work." He points out that HP can also benefit from similar studies done by other firms.

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