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EPC Bag Tagging Takes Wing

The Transportation Security Administration conducted an end-to-end trial proving UHF EPC tags can be read in Asian, U.S. and European regulatory environments, and that airlines can use the EPCglobal data model to share bag tag data.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Dec 05, 2005Since its inception in 1997, the RF Interest Group of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has been looking at how RFID tags might best be introduced to the aviation industry as an accurate and speedy method of identifying and tracking baggage and cargo. Over the years, 13.56 MHz and 2.45 GHz systems were tested in a number of IATA-sponsored trials, but each posed readability problems within certain regulatory environments.

In the United States, the power level needed to get an adequate read range using 13.56 MHz tags is out of the permissible range. Users in Europe had the same problem with 2.45 GHz, according to Andrew Price, RFID project manager at IATA (see Helping Bags Make Their Flights). In late November, the IATA, which works with airlines, airport authorities and other air transportation organizations to make the industry safer, more profitable and efficient, endorsed the use of ultra-high frequency tags and readers compliant with the ISO 18000-6C candidate protocol as a global standard for RFID baggage tags. The ISO 18000-6C protocol incorporates EPCglobal's Gen 2 standard.

RFID tags might be just the solution the aviation industry needs to make identifying and tracking baggage and cargo a speedier, more accurate process.

Until it completed field trials of an RFID-enabled bag tracking system last summer, however, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had a couple questions it wanted answered. Will a UHF system work all over the world? And if it does, how will the various entities using the system share their data?

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandates that ultra-high frequency (UHF) tags and interrogators use the 902-928 MHz frequency range to transit signals. In the European Union, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) stipulates the 865.6-867.6 MHz band. In Asia, some nations are still solidifying these regulations, but in Japan it's 950 MHz to 956 MHz, and in Singapore it's 866 MHz to 869 MHz. Other nations have their own specific ranges, as well. So could a UHF tag attached to a piece of luggage work equally well in all of the various countries through which it might travel?

In summer 2004, the TSA conducted two tag-readability trials to see if tags could move between two contrasting regulatory environments. UHF tags were encoded and attached to bags moving between Honolulu Airport and Japan's Narita Airport in Tokyo. The tagged bags were also encoded in Rome and sent to Philadelphia. At the Honolulu and Rome airports, using the frequency range allowed in each airport's respective country, the tags were encoded with a random 10-digit number designed to simulate the 10-digit passenger name record airlines currently use on bar code labels to track bags. The tests were successful, revealing that tags could be encoded in the middle (902 MHz to 928 MHz) of the band and read at the high end (950 MHz to 956 MHz), or encoded in the middle band and read in the low end (865.6 MHz to 867.6 MHz). No tags, however, were read at all three bands.

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