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Moving Toward Gen 2 RFID

How to make your implementation a success.
By Wolf Bielas
Sep 26, 2005The leadership of EPCglobal, combined with the collaborative efforts of others throughout the industry, has set the stage for real-world implementation of Gen 2 technologies compliant with the newest EPCglobal RFID specifications for the UHF band centered around 900 MHz. Gen 2 solutions will overcome many limitations of older Class 0 and Class 1 technologies. Adoption of Gen 2 will provide a standards-based framework for enhanced features and significant process improvements, including robust operation in high-density reader environments, compliance with global spectrum regulations, superior tag throughput and improved accuracy.

In the coming months, the increasing availability of Gen 2 tags, readers (interrogators) and printers, along with the impetus of compliance mandates from global corporations, will tempt many companies to make quick decisions on Gen 2 deployment. To successfully implement Gen 2, however, you must resolve a number of special challenges that range across the entire spectrum of strategic and tactical arenas that are best addressed through a disciplined and comprehensive approach. The following considerations are critical to the success of any Gen 2 RFID implementation project.

Always Start From Where You Are
Gen 2 is ideal for organizations that have not yet made any investments in RFID. Without any legacy RFID issues to consider, those with a clean slate can leverage a single learning curve to go straight to new standards-based Gen 2 technologies–and with intelligent planning, they can assure themselves of long-term value and maximum return on all RFID investments. For such companies, one major advantage of Gen 2 will be the ability to leverage standards-based interoperability between tags, interrogators, printers and so on, right from the outset. This, in turn, will help spur competition among suppliers and bring down overall implementation costs.

The migration of existing RFID systems to Gen 2 can involve significant retooling, retraining and costs of obsolescence for organizations with Class 0 or Class 1 programs already in place. Therefore, companies that have invested in RFID technology need to plan their transition to Gen 2 carefully, so as to avoid unnecessary conversion expenses and/or disruption of ongoing operations. For example, suppliers already meeting their customers' compliance requirements with Class 0 or Class 1 technologies need to plan the migration process in conjunction with their customers' needs.

Recent announcements about competitive pricing of inlays will be an important factor in driving demand for the Gen 2 product, but end users must look for aggressive pricing on finished RFID labels because the inlay is only a component of the finished solution, and several steps must be taken to complete the conversion of an inlay into a finished, tested Gen 2 RFID label.

Buyers should also be wary about claims regarding current-generation interrogators that can supposedly be upgraded to Gen 2 via firmware. Even after the upgrade, some of these readers may still be unable to operate in dense mode. Readers using software-based radio technologies may have the flexibility to migrate to Gen 2 dense mode, but a careful cost analysis is needed to determine if the extra expense of such capabilities is justified today, or if it is better to wait for market forces to bring down the cost of Gen 2 readers in coming months.

Depending on the specific circumstances, some companies will find it advantageous to become early adopters. As the interoperability of Gen 2 grows to a leveling factor, some predict that overall costs will come down during the first year by as much as 10 to 20 percent, due to rising availability and competition among suppliers.

Maintain the Proper Mindset: Investment vs. Expense
When considering the deployment of Gen 2 RFID, it is important to maintain a proper mindset. With the procurement clout of global companies such as Wal-Mart and large government entities like the U.S. Department of Defense driving compliance requirements, most of the attention has been focused simply on using EPC RFID tags to align supply chains and help connect trading partners. Under such conditions, it is all too easy for a company to look at Gen 2 as just another incremental expense of marketing and sales.

This mindset can lead to a shortsighted "check off" type of approach, in which the organization simply strives to fulfill the threshold RFID capabilities needed to meet external compliance requirements. As a result, a business can miss out leveraging Gen 2 technologies to deliver significant internal operational improvements, such as better traceability, fewer process bottlenecks and optimized inventory levels.

Going into a Gen 2 implementation purely from an expense-oriented mindset can lead to suboptimal choices intended to minimize costs rather than maximize return on investments. For example, it is important to choose interrogators with strong radio capabilities and software/firmware upgradeability that can support future operational needs. The objective is to buy a reader once, rather than to replace your RFID infrastructure as your requirements grow and expand. Similarly, prior to selecting a printer technology, you should not be married to only one type of antenna.

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