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New RFID Standard Groups at EPCglobal

Standards body EPCglobal has announced the formation of two new working groups: the HF Air Interface Working Group and the UHF Air Interface Working Group. The former will focus on creating a Gen2 standard of HF, and the latter will work to extend the existing Gen2 capabilities to better support item-level tagging.
May 09, 2006This article was originally published by RFID Update.

May 9, 2006—Standards body EPCglobal last week announced the formation of two new standards development working groups: the High Frequency (HF) Air Interface Working Group and the Ultrahigh Frequency (UHF) Air Interface Working Group. The former will focus on creating a Gen2 standard of HF, and the latter will work to extend the existing Gen2 capabilities to support the unique security features required by item-level tagging. RFID Update spoke with EPCglobal director of product management Sue Hutchinson about the new groups.

According to Hutchinson, they are the direct result of the item-level technology demonstration EPCglobal hosted in late March (see EPCglobal Tracks Item-Level RFID). The event allowed technology vendors to showcase the application of their solutions to seven item-level tagging scenarios. In total, 56 demonstrations from 23 hardware vendors were featured. UHF, HF, and even LF technology was demonstrated. After weeks of analysis based on these demos, EPCglobal determined that no one frequency was the winner. "Try as we might, there was nothing to justify going down to a single frequency," said Hutchinson. Furthermore, "there was very strong interest in the community for us to look at both [HF and UHF], so that's what we decided to do."

The HF group will work toward developing a Gen2 standard for HF RFID. Currently, Gen2 exists only for UHF, but there is no reason why, in light of potential market demand, it couldn't also exist for HF. "HF is a viable option for certain categories of products in certain types of industries," said Hutchinson. And given that the work that has already gone into developing Gen2, to start from scratch would reinvent the wheel, as it were. "We already have a great command set to work from in Gen2," noted Hutchinson, "and we want to use it with HF as well."

The formation of the HF group strongly suggests that a uni-frequency world in which UHF is used for pallet-, case-, and item-level tagging is less likely, at least from EPCglobal's perspective. (Recall the ongoing debate between UHF and HF as the preferred frequency for item-level tagging.) Hutchinson noted that "there may very well be some particpants that choose UHF only; there may be some that choose a mixed environment." Tellingly, the new Wal-Mart CIO, Rollin Ford, was quoted in the release acknowledging the likely adoption of HF for certain industries: "If the technical performance and economics support the HF frequency for other industries, then we would support the extension of the EPCglobal Gen2 standard and data structure to HF for those industries." Wal-Mart has historically been firmly in the UHF camp, and continues to be ("UHF is the best technology for Wal-Mart at this time"). But the fact that it gave a public nod to HF suggests that the retailer may be more receptive to its adoption than before.

The new UHF group will consider the particular needs of item-level tagging and how Gen2 can be enhanced to address them. Security and data protection are specific issues that will be considered. Hutchinson cited the "user memory" on Gen2 RFID tags (extra storage space used for extension or customization of the tag data) as an existing feature that might be exploited to support any proposed enhancements. She was firm that whatever the working group designed, it would be backward compatible with existing Gen2 specifications and infrastructure.

Read the announcement from EPCglobal
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