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The Gen1 to Gen2 Transition

As one looks at the impact of RFID technology on the global market, it should be noted that there is a growing realization of a transition from Gen1 to Gen2 technology. This guest article explores that transition's significance.
Oct 03, 2005This article was originally published by RFID Update.

October 3, 2005—As one looks at the impact of RFID technology on the global market, it should be noted that there is a growing realization of a transition. This is not a transition of one form of technology to another (i.e. bar code to RFID), but rather a transition from one generation of technology to the next. Clearly the market is (and has been) anticipating the impact of RFID technology in the supply chain these last few years. With energetic activities such as the Electronic Product Code (EPC) created and promoted by the AutoID Center and then by EPCglobal as well as highly visible early adopters like P&G, Wal-Mart, and the U.S. DoD, it should not be a surprise that there is anticipation and interest in the "vision" of massive adoption or RFID in the supply chain.

Early versions of RFID technology applied to the vision represented by the EPC were instructive, illuminating, and unfulfilling. The implementations of this early version (i.e. Gen1) were primarily a product of small innovative (and aggressive) startups that hoped to expand the use of RFID from its traditional applications in the transportation, animal and personal identification fields to that of item management. As one might expect, these early versions were in essence proprietary. They were the creations of individual companies (i.e. Alien and Matrics) and evolved through the efforts of those within these small companies. Thus we ended up with Class 0, 0+, and 1 with different variants as the technology matured. This first generation (Gen1) has limited sources and did not have true interoperability among the variants.

Additionally, there were a number of limitations with the initial versions of Gen1, including limited capacity (number of bits carried), varied read rates, limited functionality (i.e. factory programmed and one-time-programmable) and limited use in non-U.S. regulatory environments. It was clear that a change was needed to establish a solid foundation for RFID technology to meet the user needs in the global supply chain. This brought us the Gen2 effort beginning in spring of 2003.

The global RFID technology providers along with those that produced the Gen1 technology set out to create a "new version" that would address the deficiencies of the first generation. In short order it was realized that more than a tweak of Class 0 or Class 1 (Gen1) was needed to solve the problem. The effort evolved into a massive project that had as its primary objective the following four principles:
  • Meet user performance requirements (i.e. read range and rate)
  • Provide for multiple sources of technology supply (i.e. generally supportable by the global technology supply infrastructure -- not proprietary)
  • Globally usable (i.e. must be able to support global commerce by recognizing the disparities among the various regulatory regions)
  • Pathway to low cost (i.e. the technical definition needed to recognize the balance between performance and cost)
This effort was migrated from the AutoID Center to EPCglobal in November 2003 and concluded with the ratification of the EPCglobal Class 1 Generation 2 UHF RFID Air Interface Protocol in December 2004. The market stands ready to see this collaborative effort come to fruition through the realization of the specification in product form.

While there have been incremental changes in the Gen1 technology to address critical issues, the anticipation for the Gen2 technology is significant. The lessons learned through the pilots and trial using Gen1 await validation through the application of Gen2-based products. With the ratification of the Gen2 EPC standard and the movement of the technology specification into the international stage with the ongoing amendment of ISO/IEC 18000-6 as Type C, we are now ten months into waiting. The global RFID technology providers are working hard to bring the promises of Gen2 into reality. Thus we feel the anticipation grow and recognize the transition period we are in.

While such transitions are agonizing, we can draw comfort knowing that the new generation of RFID technology is not the product (or promise) of a single company or organization. The RFID technology industry, as a whole, worked together to address the market needs expressed by the users and are committed to bringing real products to market. Transitions may be painful, but they are a necessary feature of technology innovation.
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