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Will Chip-Based Serialization Lock Suppliers into a Single Chip Vendor?

A recent agreement among chipmakers is designed to enable apparel suppliers and others to use RFID tags with different chips, but you should look at the issues carefully before opting for serialization solutions that employ the tag ID.
By Dwight Carver
Jul 02, 2012The use of passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) radio frequency identification tags is on the verge of rapid expansion. We've been hearing this claim for some time now, but with the latest round of initiatives being pushed by apparel retailers, we actually are approaching a tipping point. If your company is an apparel supplier facing tagging requirements from customers, as mine is, there are many questions that come to mind. One topic that will inevitably arise is which serialization method to use—and it's likely to spark a debate as passionate as any political argument.

GS1 recently published a document titled "EPC-enabled RFID Serialization Management for SGTIN-96," (see RFID News Roundup: GS1 US Publishes RFID Tag-Serialization Guidelines), but is there a clear answer on which solution is the best to use? As an executive working for an apparel company, I have been considering this issue for a while, and at present, I would say no. Having said that, I should clarify that there are serialization methods offering greater benefits and more peace of mind than others.

This brings us to the use of so-called chip-based serialization to create a unique Electronic Product Code (EPC). This method employs a Tag Identifier (TID)—a unique serial number written to a chip during manufacture. The problem is that a TID can be 72 to 168 bits in length, while the serial number in the EPC is only 38 bits (the remaining 58 bits in a 96-bit EPC are used for the header, and to identify the company and product category). So chipmakers must create a "recipe" for extracting part of the TID in a way that never produces a duplicate EPC.

In late March 2012, three chipmakers announced that they had agreed on a formula for chip-based serialization that would allow companies like mine to utilize tags with chips from all three vendors without having to worry about creating duplicate TIDs (see Three RFID Chip Makers Agree on Serialization Approach). Really? I'm not so sure.

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