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Report Sees Sharp Rise in Pharma RFID

U.K. consultancy IDTechEx expects as many as 10 drug companies will commit to RFID trials in the coming year.
By Beth Bacheldor
RFID's payback, or return on investment, has been the topic of debate for some time in many industries. The IDTechEx report, however, indicates RFID-based real-time locating systems utilizing wireless local area networks may generate a quicker ROI. The report points to two kinds of RTLS systems: so-called zonal (cell ID) systems relying on fixed interrogators throughout a building to ensure an RFID tag is never out of range; and Wi-Fi networks that track continuously powered active tags able to signal readers without first being interrogated. RTLS software computes the location of the tags. Zonal systems mainly operate at 433 MHz or 2.45 GHz, Wi-Fi networks at 2.45 GHz.

RTLS systems, which Harrop says are affordable because they can leverage the already-existing wireless LAN infrastructures commonplace in many hospitals, can be used to track and monitor hospital assets, personnel and even patients. "Hospitals have horrific losses of assets; something like 10 percent of the assets go walking out," says Harrop. "In some of the case studies in our report, there are hospitals getting paybacks [of RTLS systems] in less than a year."

The IDTechEx report also validated what looks to be a brewing debate over ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags and high-frequency (HF) tags for items. Wal-Mart has stated it favors UHF tags (see Wal-Mart Seeks UHF for Item-Level), whereas Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline are both using HF tags (see Study Says HF Rules for Pharma Items).

"There are different camps—actually, two now and possibly three different camps," Harrop says. He adds that in addition to the UHF technology Wal-Mart currently uses to track tagged cases and pallets, the retailer is also considering near-field UHF technology (which uses a slightly different tag requiring different reader antennas) to track individually tagged items. Near-field UHF tags have a read range of only about one UHF wavelength (about 13 inches), making them better suited for the close-range identification of tagged items.

According to Harrop, the market could be heading toward problems similar to those posed by three different kinds of antitheft tags currently used by retailers and others that each require their own readers and other equipment. Without a resolution, he explains, "you'll have deliveries where the same drug will be fitted with a little tag that is HF and a little tag that is UHF, and maybe even another tag [the near-field UFH tag]. That now reaches the same madness we have with antitheft tags," he says. "That has to shake out, and there has to be one winner because you can't have a world industry with world players without a single, world standard."

The report is available for purchase at IDTechEx's Web site.

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