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Aussies Track Mail Service Via RFID

Using an RFID system set to launch in January, the nation's postal service will automatically monitor tagged test envelopes as they pass through key sorting points.
By Jonathan Collins
Dec 01, 2005Looking to improve the monitoring and management of its operations, Australia Post is set to track special RFID-tagged test envelopes as they are processed by its domestic mail service. The system uses the same technology the mail carrier has already deployed to track its international mail operations.

Australia Post is in the process of deploying more than 400 RFID interrogators (readers) from Lyngsoe Systems at mail sorting and distribution locations across the country. It will also use 12,500 active tags, also from Lyngsoe, and is set to go into operation in January. The tags and readers are part of Lyngsoe's AMQM mail-quality measurement system, which incorporates its QSM software and is intended to help Australia Post store and analyze RFID-generated mail-tracking data.

Henrik Egestad, Lyngsoe Systems
The RFID system will automatically read the tagged test envelopes as they pass through key sorting points in the network, and help track their travel through the company's domestic mail network. The tagged test envelopes, which are indistinguishable from other letters, are designed so that mail handlers cannot see the tags.

New RFID readers will be deployed in nine of Australia Post's metropolitan letter processing facilities, 21 of its country mail centers and 24 of Australia's largest delivery centers. Another 16 mobile units will be deployed to diagnose problems in more remote areas of the mail network.

"With these 70 sites covered, probably all letters posted in Australia will past through at least one site if it's just local mail, and two sites for the majority," says Henrik Egestad, sales manager at Lyngsoe Systems.

Research International will manage the panel assigned to send and receive the test mail. The research company will monitor when each event occurs, as well as what class and type of mail each event relates to, then provide that data to Australia Post. The mail carrier will use this information to understand better the performance of its mail network, to pinpoint inefficiencies and to provide objective service level measurements to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which is responsible for regulating the country's postal service.

Lyngsoe Systems' AMQM mail-quality measurement hardware has already been deployed by members of the International Post Corp. (IPC), a Brussels, Belgium-based cooperative association of 23 national postal system operators from Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia (see Big Blue Puts Stamp on RFID). Together, IPC members handle 290 billion pieces of mail per year, representing about 65 percent of the world's postal traffic. Australia Post joined the group and began tracking its international mail two years ago.

Australia Post will attach Lyngsoe's PT21 tags, the same type it uses to track its international mail operations, to the contents of its test envelopes. Measuring 100mm by 150mm by 2mm and weighing 12 grams, each tag carries 256 bits of memory, is used to store a single unique ID number and has a battery life of five years.

When the tag enters a read field, a 125 kHz signal transmitted by an RFID reader activates its transponder. When powered up, the tag's processor starts running and uses the 433.92 MHz high-frequency band to transmit the tag's ID to the reader. After this, the transponder shuts down and does not awaken again until the transponder enters another read field. The tags are designed to withstand the impact of all mail-handling processes and equipment, including sorting machines. Australia Post will also use Lyngsoe's RD21 readers, which support up to 15 antennas apiece, though they are generally being deployed with no more than four.

Lyngsoe says around 30 national postal services, including Deutsche Post in Germany and the Royal Mail in the United Kingdom, are already using its system to track both domestic and international mail.
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