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10 Questions to Ask RFID Vendors

Before you begin an RFID pilot or rollout, there are some important questions you need to ask RFID tag and reader providers to guarantee the success of the project and future-proof your investment.
By Bob Violino
2. Can you back up your performance claims?
RFID technology is still immature, and the same type of system (say, a UHF system) can show vast differences in performance from one vendor to the next. It's also possible for an unscrupulous vendor to demonstrate significant read ranges under ideal conditions even though the same tags and readers will perform poorly in the real world. Ask the vendors that you are working with to demonstrate their tags and readers on your products in your facility. If you can't get them to do that, it's worth buying tags and readers from the top three vendors you are considering and test them yourself.

3. Do you do site inspections?
Typically, companies selling RF equipment, including wireless LANs, will visit the distribution center, warehouse or manufacturing facility where you plan to use their equipment. Site inspections are important because the vendor can see what other wireless equipment you are using, whether it might interfere with RFID equipment and how to get around the interference issue. The vendor can also assess environmental issues that could affect the performance of a system, such as the presence of a lot of metal shelving or water, which interferes with radio waves. The inspection will cost $2,000 to $5,000 or more, depending on the size of your facility and the nature of your products. But you need to have this done by only one reliable vendor.

4. How will you help me protect my investment?
Standards are in flux. EPCglobal, a joint venture set up by the Uniform Code Council and EAN International to commercialize EPC technology, is working on a second generation of the Class 1 EPC protocol that will be significantly different from the existing Class 1 protocol. It's possible that ISO standards and EPC standards could merge over time. No company wants to invest in technology only to find out that it is not compatible with newer standards that emerge.

It's important to insure that any reader you purchase today can be upgraded remotely over a local or wide area network to comply with new standards that emerge. Typically, this involves installing new firmware in the reader. Many, but not all, companies now offer readers that can be upgraded remotely.

Some companies are offering readers that can operate using several different protocols and even different frequencies. This is one way to guarantee that whatever protocol emerges as a standard, your hardware will be able to cope. However, there may be some trade-offs. Some multiprotocol readers are more expensive than single-protocol readers, and there can be a decline in performance if the reader is set up to try to run through a series of protocols to detect which types of tags are in the read field. Compare prices and ask vendors to demonstrate the reader using several dozen tags using a variety of protocols on a variety of products.


Shawn McMullen 2006-04-20 08:22:04 AM
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