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Siemens and AT&T Jump Into RFID

Today we consider the announcements of two household technology names, Siemens and AT&T. What makes these two particularly interesting is that they represent the first highly-publicized RFID activity by both companies.
Sep 15, 2005This article was originally published by RFID Update.

September 15, 2005—This week RFID Update has been covering announcements coming out of the EPCglobal conference in Atlanta, which concludes today. On Tuesday, we reported on the partnership between Hewlett Packard and Philips to advance the cause of Gen2 adoption, and yesterday we wrote about the new RFID product and service offerings from both IBM and Cisco. Today we consider the announcements of two other household technology names, Siemens and AT&T. What makes these two particularly interesting is that they represent the first highly-publicized RFID activity by both companies. And from a broader perspective, it means that the list of technology giants with a stake in RFID -- Philips, IBM, HP, Cisco, Texas Instruments, Sun, SAP, Microsoft, Oracle -- keeps growing.


Siemens announced SIMATIC RF600, a family of coordinated UHF RFID products designed for supply chain applications. The product line includes tags, printers, antennas, middleware, a mobile reader, and the SIMATIC RF660R reader, which claims excellent read rates and is designed for durability in warehouse and industrial environments. Not all of the products are available immediately; the mobile reader and printer with come out in early 2006 for the U.S. and later in the year for other markets, and the middleware release is slated for third quarter. The middleware will interface with MES, WMA, and ERP systems, as well as Siemens' own SIMATIC IT. Industrial-grade hard tags will be released in Q2. In addition to products, Siemens will offer comprehensive RFID training targeted at both end-users and systems integrators charged with implementing the technology.

To say that this is Siemens' first highly-publicized RFID activity is not to suggest that the company is new to RFID. On the contrary, Siemens is touting its 20-year history working with the technology, during which it has installed more than a quarter-million RFID readers. Furthermore, the company is making very clear that it is serious about leveraging that experience to become a leading vendor for supply chain RFID. It has come out of the gate with an "end-to-end" solution, aiming to be a one-stop shop for end-users. In addition to the existing portfolio, the company has stated that it will continually expand and enhance its offerings with conveyor and forklift readers, application-specific antenna designs, and ongoing improvements to the software and reader firmware. "RFID development is a top priority for Siemens--today and in the future," said Dennis Sadlowski, head of Factory Automation Sensors at Siemens. As a testament to its intentions, the company has launched a marketing push that includes three separate booths at EPCglobal this week, an aggressive marketing campaign, and a webinar presentation including a speech by Sadlowski introducing the SIMATIC RF600 family.


Coming as a surprise to many, Ma Bell has announced customer trials of its new "managed, end-to-end, hosted RFID services." The trials will last 90 days and are set to begin in the early part of next year. The cost structure will be pay-per-use and scalable, allowing customers to start small and grow as their deployments expand and mature. It is an umbrella total-service solution which leverages the company's core competency in managed services to provide network integration, consulting, IP transport, hosting, storage, managed applications, and security.

The announcement is notable for a few reasons. First, it is further evidence of a trend toward hosted RFID solutions (Seeburger's IDnet and IBM's RFID Express come immediately to mind). Outsourcing RFID software and data management is an approach that more and more vendors believe will appeal to the many end-users eager to save money in any way possible on costly RFID deployments. Also, hosted solutions offer attractive scalability, allowing tentative end-users to deploy slowly and cheaply at first and grow their deployments at their own measured pace.

Second, the announcement is full of mixed signals. On the one hand, AT&T's vice president of business strategy and development Eric Shepcaro calls the fact that the company has joined EPCglobal (part of the same announcement) "further evidence of our commitment to the emerging RFID market." But if AT&T were so committed to RFID, it seems very late to be joining EPCglobal only now. Furthermore, the company is announcing trials, not actual availability, of the (unnamed) managed services. No vendor partnerships were announced, and the release is mum on where the hardware piece of the solution will come from. I tried searching AT&T's site for a page devoted to the offering, but could find none. Given all of these factors, it is hard to decipher AT&T's long-term intentions and its true level of commitment. RFID Update will be watching closely.
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