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An Integrated RFID Solution for Retail

When RFID technology providers create an integrated, easy-to-use, scalable RFID solution, retailers will embrace it in a big way.
By Mark Roberti
Feb 07, 2016

I have been writing for years that providers of radio frequency identification technology must develop integrated products that solve business problems (see End Users Want an iPod and Products Outpace Solutions). There are more integrated solutions on the market today, particularly in health care, but most RFID companies still sell tags or readers or software.

I believe that if there were an integrated, easy-to-deploy, scalable solution for stores—something akin to Apple's iPod—we would see all retail chains adopt the technology very quickly. That got me thinking about what such a solution would look like.

It would involve always-on readers that were relatively low-cost and easy to install. I envision stores replacing ceiling tiles with reader antennas that would just need to be plugged in, with no calibration or tweaking required. It would involve tags that could be read even when densely packed with other tags. And it would involve software to manage inventory in real time, based on the knowledge that a particular product is—or is not—in a certain area of the store.

The RFID solution providers are, I believe, aware of the need to make systems easier to deploy and more scalable. They are investing in research and development to improve tags, readers and software. But I'm not sure if any company is taking a holistic approach or working with partners on such an approach (that is—they are not working on an iPod-like solution).

It often requires partnerships to build an integrated solution. In the early 1980s, Apple created a computer with its own operating system and software applications, as well as a few applications from third parties. Microsoft, on the other hand, worked very closely with IBM and Intel to create a whole product that could match Apple's. And Microsoft partnered with hardware manufacturers to have its operating system and often Office applications preloaded on computers so customers could buy a whole product.

Tag and reader providers do work together, but I don't see the same kind of close development relationships in RFID. Would readers, for example, be different if tags had new capabilities? I don't know the answer, but it seems to me that development efforts are often carried out in isolation. One company adds capabilities to its readers without much knowledge or even interest in how tag companies are refining their products.

I do think a complete solution will come together because the market demands it. Tags will continue to improve, as will readers and software. Prices will come down as volumes go up, and the vendor community will eventually create something that is relatively easy to install and scale. The first company that creates an iPod-like solution—either alone or in partnership—will be embraced by retailers in a very big way.

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.

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