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Why RFID Vendors and Users Speak Different Languages

Vendors look at RFID from an engineering perspective, which often confuses end users who are trying to figure out what RFID does and how it can be used to improve the way they do business.
By Mark Roberti
Feb 22, 2010I've been working on a special report that aims to explain all the different types of radio frequency identification systems, and to put them in a context that will help end users better understand the different "flavors" of the technology, so that they can choose the type that will work best for their particular applications. I was doing a little research on RuBee, a form of RFID that uses sophisticated devices that communicate with each other, when I came across this sentence on Wikipedia: "RuBee is often confused with radio frequency identification...RFID protocols use what is known as backscattered transmission mode...In contrast, RuBee is similar to Wi-Fi and ZigBee in that it is peer-to-peer, and is a networked transceiver that actually transmits a data signal on demand."

So RuBee, which uses radio waves to remotely identify objects or people, is not RFID because it uses a different communications method. A few years ago, the CEO of a company selling RuBee-based systems told me RuBee was not RFID because the tags have an onboard CPU and can dynamically change their own IP addresses.


The situation is equally confusing to end users when academics or RFID industry professionals discuss "wireless sensor networks." This term is hopelessly vague to end users (as is the even more vague term "sensor networks"). It's not clear to end users if the sensors are monitoring specific things, or just general environmental conditions. And it's not clear to them how these sensors are different from active RFID tags and battery-assisted RFID tags that also support sensors (the only real difference is that RFID sensors communicate with a reader or readers, whereas wireless sensor networks have tags that communicate with each other).

I know there are some end users, even on the business side, who are technology enthusiasts and understand all of this. But most end users are confused by it—and it's our fault as an industry.

My view of RFID has been clear and consistent from the day I launched RFID Journal: If a device or system's main purpose is to identify an object remotely, it is RFID—regardless of any technical specifications. If a sensor is wireless but does not communicate an ID—it just tells you if it's hot or cold—then it's not RFID. And if an ID is a critical component—it tells you which specific item or location is hot or cold—then it's RFID.

USER COMMENTS

Alaa Toubar 2010-03-24 09:13:01 AM
RFID Journal LIVE! 2010 Dear Mark, I'm a very recent member of RFID Journal. In my search fro a reliable source of information re RFID, I found myself atracted to your establishment. Found it to be very useful for someone like me who wants to start introducing the technology to our Egyptian Market. I also believe that participating in the upcoming 2010 Orlando event would be a great starting point for me. I'm trying to get the entry vise to the USA now. As soon as it is confirmed, I'll book my place in !Live 2010. If I'll be able to make it, I'll be glad if you can reserve sometime during the event so that we can have a talk together. Wish you a great success in Orlando, Alaa Toubar
Mark Roberti 2010-03-24 01:03:09 PM
See you at RFID JOurnal LIVE Dear A. Toubar: I would be happy to meet you in Orlando. Hope you get the visa. Mark
James H Kerr 2010-09-30 01:32:42 PM
Leader Dear Mark: I am a newcomer I concur with those who say the RFID Journal is the best source for the real deal when it comes to RFID. I hold a patent on a RFID application process, service and product centered on real time physical asset tracking, tracing and authenticating. I want to explore the market place universe in pursuit of the top ten producer sand distributors of RFID product and services - focused on asset tracking. I believe that RFID has a great future in high value asset tracking. I believe that not less than four key stakeholders need to know a lot about their affected assets all the time - on demand. The stakeholder functions are FINANCE, SECURITY, OPERATIONS and CUSTODIANS to name a few. I like technical simplicity and process predictability. I like the signal deployment concept of "Green" which says I know exactly where my assets are - right now; YELLOW which indicates I know where the assets are right now but the asset is located in the wrong place. I control both places. Finally I like the use of the RED signal to indicate that the asset is out of my control right now. I am inviting conversation about this approach Let's talk more when time permits. Jim
Mark Roberti 2010-09-30 02:59:28 PM
Thank you Thanks for the kind words. Everyone at RFID Journal works very hard to produce the high quality content that we put out every day. We never get tired of people telling us they appreciate all that we do. Feel free to email me at editor@rfidjournal.com. Mark
James H Kerr 2010-10-03 02:32:47 PM
Why RFID Vendors and Users Speak Different Languages RFID users and vendors speak different languages mainly because each of them desires a different outcome at the end of the day. Is this a rhetorical question? Maybe different language use is a good thing and not something undesirable. Think of the vendor as a perpetual concern - participating in lots of sales incentives in a very vibrant marketplace. In that same space the vendor has to appeal to a wide variety of potential buyers and so the vendor makes use of the "jargon" of the day. We all know about the bright young innovator who just came up with a great idea. He/she gives their work a brand name, i.e., Google. By comparison, the user is in pursuit of a product/service needed in order to attack a real world problem, e.g., track my assets in near real time. We all know there are hundreds of ways to accomplish that task. Hence we have the classic seller vs. buyer language stovepipe. I guess we might say that a sort of RFID language "middle ware" subject matter expert (SME) may prove to be a good arbitrage for all of the players in the RFID arena. We all are witnesses to the fast paced technology changes. Sometimes these things literally evolve overnight. The vendor is at a distinct disadvantage in this regard. The vendor has invested large resources and can not shift on a dime like the young entrepreneurs working from a makeshift lab. The vendor is likely to have longstanding contracts to deliver products and services that may be still 2nd and 3rd gen items. The vendor still has to nimble enough to compete. So most have an R&D arm. But where is the allegiance in the lab? The language is likely to be a bit stagnant. The R&D lab is likely to be resolving production and distribution challenges. There must be room at the Inn for all of the RFID stakeholders. Neither the user or the vendor is culpable here. They both have a role to play. James Kerr

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