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Next Up: A Passive UHF Reader in Your Phone

Apple's embrace of NFC means all new phones will have an RFID reader—but they also need to be able to read Electronic Product Codes.
By Mark Roberti

It is true that you can get information about some products using a QR code (though only a few retailers currently use them). A QR code can store a URL about an item to direct a shopper to a Web page containing information about that product. More retailers might use this as an interim step, but it is not a viable long-term solution for several reasons. One is that you would need to launch a separate application, orient the bar code to your phone's camera and scan the code. This would require some effort on a consumer's part (though the scanner could be built into a retailer's app).

The second reason is that with a QR code, there is no way to automatically determine that an item has been paid for. So even if person purchased a product via a mobile phone, he or she would still need to go to the point of sale to have that item's electronic article surveillance (EAS) tag deactivated.

It will still be several more years before UHF readers are embedded in mobile phone handsets. There is no reason to add a UHF reader until a greater number of products in stores contain UHF tags. The number of tagged items is growing rapidly each year, with more retailers announcing plans to use passive UHF to track individual items, but we are still a few years away from mass adoption.

It will also take time and money for a reader company to shrink the reader components down to a chip that can be placed inside a mobile phone. Businesses won't make that investment until they are sure mobile phone handset makers, such as Apple, Samsung and HTC, are going to buy those chips. But it wouldn't surprise me if some RFID reader companies were presently working on creating such a chip, and were in discussions with handset makers. It would be smart to anticipate demand for UHF mobile phone readers for consumers.

Now, you might be thinking that it isn't possible to put both NFC and UHF readers in a single device. Clearly, it is. They would not interfere with each other, as they would operate at different frequencies and would likely be used at different times for different apps. And many mobile phones already have six radio devices in them—CDMA and GSM radios for calling, as well as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and NFC. So what's one more radio?

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.


Jinho Ko 2014-09-26 02:01:24 AM
Let me add one more thing. An RFID reader-enabled phone will be able to get various sensor data from sensor tagged things or wearable devices near the phone.
Joost Kroes 2014-09-26 02:45:27 AM
Hi Mark! Good point about the UHF reader in phones. But I'm wondering if we won't first see a convergence of NFC and UHF (single chip supporting both frequencies) which will be able to support both the consumer and the industry needs. What are your thoughts on that?
Carrie Requist 2014-10-02 02:26:10 PM
Great to see RFID industry leadership promoting mass use of UHF RFID leveraging smartphone ease of use and ubiquity. U Grok It supports your belief in democratizing UHF RFID by pushing the technology down-market to small and medium businesses and ultimately consumers.

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