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Certified Interoperability: UHF Gen 2 Achieves Another Milestone

Here's what it means, and why it matters.
By John Schroeter
Tags: Standards
Sep 16, 2006Multi-vendor interoperability: This was always the vision for UHF Gen 2. It is, after all, what an open standard is all about. So it's not without some fanfare that the first raft of interoperability certifications have been awarded by the standard's keeper, EPCglobal. But what, exactly, does that mean? Why does interoperability certification matter, especially considering that Gen 2 compliance certification is a prerequisite to interoperability testing? In answering these and other questions, it's helpful to understand Gen 2's bigger deployment picture.

Long before the standard was ratified, EPCglobal outlined a multiphase certification program that would serve both the development and the deployment of high-quality Gen 2 products. One can think of this program as a roadmap for building a winning sports team: First, individual athletes must qualify to join the team. Second, the team members must play well together. And third, those teams with the best-performing athletes will be expected to prevail on the field of play. In many respects, this is the very model adopted by EPCglobal.

In this case, individual product qualification is determined via compliance testing, team play via interoperability testing, and finally, getting to the big game by performance testing. The earliest Gen 2 compliance certifications were awarded in September 2005, with the first interoperability certifications being awarded almost exactly a year later. The third leg, performance testing, will occur in early 2007. All this is intended to ensure that end users have everything they need to field the best-performing, most robust RFID solutions available.

UHF Gen 2 Goes Plug-and-Play
RFID hardware interoperability determines the ability of tags and readers manufactured by different suppliers to work interchangeably—to be, in fact, plug-and-play. This is critically important to end users, who simply need to know that the Gen 2 readers they've installed in their warehouses, distribution centers or retail stores will read all the Gen 2 tags that come through their doors—regardless of which companies manufactured them. And products are either fully interoperable, or they're not interoperable at all.

In order to achieve an interoperability certification, a tag must pass all 267 test suites (defined by EPCglobal and their testing partner, MET Labs) with each reader and each printer-encoder. Likewise, a reader or printer-encoder must pass its set of test scenarios with every tag. When they do, they earn the right to bear EPCglobal's UHF Gen 2 interoperability mark.

Compliance Testing is a Good Start
Although all products submitted to interoperability testing must first be certified for compliance to the Gen 2 standard, it's not uncommon for some manufacturers to misinterpret certain elements of the specification, preventing their tags, for example, from interoperating with other Gen 2 devices. Furthermore, certain tags and readers may be interoperable with each other, but not with all other Gen 2 devices. As such, the scope of interoperability tests was designed to exercise, as much as possible, the full functionality of the Gen 2 spec—including operation at timing limits—with a prime objective of assuring true multi-vendor compatibility.

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