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Container Tracking Needs Standards

A survey conducted by ABI Research shows that companies involved in the container security and tracking industry are waiting for standards before they'll invest in technologies such as RFID.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Dec 09, 2004A lack of standards—both within the RFID industry and from customs and border protection agencies—is the largest market barrier to the container security tracking industry, according to a study released by technology market analyst firm ABI Research.

During November, the Oyster Bay, N.Y., firm surveyed more than 100 members of the freight container security and tracking industry. Software developers and RFID vendors made up the largest groups of survey respondents, but the respondents also included representatives from container lessors, shipping lines, telematics service providers and container manufacturers.

According to David Schrier, the ABI Research analyst who led the survey, most of the players in the container security and tracking industry are using RFID technologies, all involving active tags operating in the UHF range, for the limited container tracking that has been put into practice and for pilot projects currently underway. But he says that before many companies will commit significant resources to any of the tracking technologies, they are waiting for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other national border agencies around the world to decide on technical standards that will allow global shipment tracking to use one technology in a standardized manner.

"There's an apprehensiveness in the industry about investing in technology that they're not particularly sure will come to fruition. They've taken a wait-and-see attitude," says Schrier.

Operation Safe Commerce, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Customs, is testing RFID and other technologies for use in securing the supply chain. An ISO technical committee is developing a standard for supply chain RFID applications in freight containers. The U.S. government has issued no mandates for the use of a single technology in securing and tracking containers. With concerns over the vulnerability of our national borders and ports to acts of terrorism, however, ABI Research says that the container security industry is set to grow rapidly.

Following the lack of standards, survey respondents noted the following issues as the other leading market barriers: technology immaturity, industry fragmentation, prohibitive costs and lack of apparent ROI.

Results of the ABI survey also point to an interest among respondents in using RFID in container tracking to improve supply chain efficiencies so that they can realize a return on investment. "There is an interest in using tracking technologies to find kinks in the supply chain," says Schrier. "The technologies make it possible to identify chokepoints in the supply chain, like where containers are spending too much time in a port, for example." He says supply chain optimization can also save manufacturers money by allowing them to reduce safety stocks, which are inventories that exceed normal needs and are used as a buffer against shipment delays.

The primary focus of the respondent companies is supply chain optimization (indicated by 38 percent of companies surveyed), followed by loss prevention (26 percent), counterterrorism and government/regulatory compliance (each 18 percent). More than half of the respondents work for companies based in the U.S. The largest group of primary end-user customers of the respondents are shippers and carriers (15 percent), followed by the nonmilitary public sector (14 percent) and precious/high-value cargo (13 percent). The results of the survey are available for free at www.abiresearch.com/download_CSTsurvey.jsp .

In September, ABI Research published a study of the container security tracking industry, , that identifies market drivers, relevant issues and market players for each major region around the world. A basic license (one to four users) for the report is $3,500.

ABI Research has also recently released a white paper on electronic container tracking, available for download at www.abiresearch.com/download_CSTwhitepaper.jsp, that details the technologies used in container security tracking, including RFID, ultra-wideband, GPS, cellular messaging and satellite messaging.

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