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Saudi Post Adds Intelligence to Mailboxes
EPC Gen 2 tags are being deployed at millions of homes across the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, helping postal carriers to monitor service and verify that mail was correctly delivered.
May 05, 2009—After participating in the first phases of an ongoing project using active RFID tags to monitor the performance of Saudi Arabia's postal service, Saudi Post is rolling out RFID-based mailboxes for citizens across the kingdom. This rollout is part of an overall IT and service upgrade that includes an active RFID-based system to monitor quality at the nation's mail-sorting centers.
Each of the 10 million mailboxes that will be installed at homes in Saudi Arabia is fitted with a passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID tag that uniquely identifies it. Postal carriers employ Intermec handheld CN3 computers with built-in RFID IP30 interrogators to identify the mailboxes before slipping letters into them. After a letter is inserted into a mailbox, the tag is read once more so that Saudi Post's system can verify when mail was delivered to that particular home. The handhelds, containing GPS and wireless data communication modules, are used to provide real-time updates to managers regarding postal carriers' locations and activities.
Before the RFID-based mailboxes were installed, Saudi citizens picked up their mail at post offices, where they could also take care of banking, the payment of utility bills and other tasks. Homes did not have mailboxes at all, and the country lacked a single, unified addressing system. That limitation has resulted in various entities, such as electric companies or private logistics firms, creating their own grids and zones and utilizing different addressing systems for the same location—and, thus, causing confusion and delays for the delivery of packages and mail. To rectify this problem, the government-run Saudi Post implemented uniform addresses in 2004, simultaneous with the planning of the RFID-based mailbox project. At the end of 2005, Saudi Post launched the mailbox rollout in Riyadh.
To date, millions of steel government-owned mailboxes bearing RFID tags have been installed across multiple cities, as part of the so-called Wasel project (wasel is the Arabic word for "reachable"). The mailboxes, which resemble those widely used in Europe, are attached to the exterior walls of homes and buildings.
Cisco's regional sales manager for the public sector in Saudi Arabia. "Since we did not have mailboxes, we said, 'Why not go forward with the latest technology?'" Cisco has been assisting Saudi Post with a broad IT infrastructure upgrade, to help the organization better compete with courier services offered by private logistics companies, such as DHL or Federal Express, and to prepare it for eventual privatization.
The tags—which have 96 bits of programmable memory and function at 915 MHz—are embedded in a plastic housing attached to the steel mailbox, manufactured by a local company. The housing keeps the metal from interfering with the tag, and also protects the tags from Saudi Arabia's sand, as well as windstorms and other harsh weather. Summers are brutally hot in the kingdom, with temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) and humidity approaching 100 percent in seaside cities. The tags can operate at temperatures between -25 degrees and +70 degrees Celsius (-13 degrees and +158 degrees Fahrenheit).
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