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A Summary of RFID Standards

It's commonly said that there are no standards in RFID. In fact, there are many well-established standards and a few emerging standards. Here's a guide to the most important ones.
By Bob Violino
Jan 16, 2005Standards are critical for many RFID applications, such as payment systems and tracking goods or reusable containers in open supply chains. A great deal of work has been going on over the past decade to develop standards for different RFID frequencies and applications.

There are existing and proposed RFID standards that deal with the air interface protocol (the way tags and readers communicate), data content (the way data is organized or formatted), conformance (ways to test that products meet the standard) and applications (how standards are used on shipping labels, for example).

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has created standards for tracking cattle with RFID. ISO 11784 defines how data is structured on the tag. ISO 11785 defines the air interface protocol. ISO has created a standard for the air interface protocol for RFID tags used in payment systems and contactless smart cards (ISO 14443) and in vicinity cards (ISO 15693). It also has established standards for testing the conformance of RFID tags and readers to a standard (ISO 18047), and for testing the performance of RFID tags and readers (ISO 18046).

Using RFID to track goods in open supply chains is relatively new and fewer standards have been finalized. ISO has proposed standards for tracking 40-foot shipping containers, pallets, transport units, cases and unique items. These are at various stages in the approval process.

The standard situation was complicated by the fact that the Auto-ID Center, which developed Electronic Product Code technologies, chose to create its own air interface protocol for tracking goods through the international supply chain. This article explains the evolution of the Electronic Product Code and the importance of various ISO standards.

The Auto-ID Center was set up in 1999 to develop the Electronic Product Code and related technologies that could be used to identify products and track them through the global supply chain. Its mission was to develop a low-cost RFID system, because the tags needed to be disposable (a manufacturer putting tags on products shipped to a retailer was never going to get those tags back to reuse them). It had to operate in the ultra-high frequency band, because only UHF delivered the read range needed for supply chain applications, such as reading pallets coming through a dock door.

The Auto-ID Center also wanted its RFID system to be global and to be based on open standards. It needed to be global because the aim was to use it to track goods as they flowed from a manufacturer in one country or region to companies in other regions and eventually to store shelves. For Company A to read a tag put on a product by Company B, the tag had to use a standardized air interface protocol. The Auto-ID Center developed its own protocol and licensed it to EPCglobal on the condition that it would be made available royalty-free to manufacturers and end users.

The center also was charged with developing a network architecture—a layer integrated with the Internet—that would enable anyone to look up information associated with a serial number stored on a tag. The network, too, needed to be based on open standards used on the Internet, so companies could share information easily and at low cost.

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