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EPC Product Focus Shifts to Item Level and Standard Software

At the exhibit hall of EPCglobal US's conference, companies focused on item-level tagging and on the standardized software to enable diverse RFID interrogators and middleware to interoperate.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Oct 20, 2006Product news from the exhibit hall of EPCglobal US's annual conference, held Oct. 16 to 19 in Los Angeles, reflects a growing focus on item-level tagging and on the standardized software that could enable diverse RFID interrogators to easily communicate with middleware and for middleware platforms to interoperate. With prominent end users such as Procter & Gamble starting to kick the item-level tires (see Gillette Fuses RFID With Product Launch), analysts are predicting that companies may start tagging items (rather than just cases and pallets) sooner than expected. Rick Bauer, senior director of RFID technical research for Paxar, says that his company is already working with nearly a dozen end users to launch item-level tagging pilots.

Wal-Mart has been a strong supporter of sticking with UHF technology for item-level tagging (see Wal-Mart Seeks UHF for Item-Level), rather than moving to HF tags at the item level, as a number of pharmaceutical companies are doing in their pilot tests. But Zebra is making itself available to either camp, augmenting its UHF product portfolio with the release of a new printer-encoder for HF smart labels.

EPCglobal US president Mike Meranda told attendees that a shift is afoot within the EPCglobal solution provider community, with more than half made up of software companies. The list of companies awarded conformance marks from EPCglobal's newly launched software certification program reflected this changing profile (see EPCglobal Announces EPC Software Certification, RFID Deployment Tool). Eleven middleware providers received the software certifications for the Gen 2 reader protocol and EPCIS, while the initial round of hardware conformance awards went to only seven firms. And while mostly high-profile firms dominated hardware testing, the first group of certified Gen 2 software providers are less well-known (and more international), with German reader networking solution provider 7id, India's Skandsoft, South Korean research organization ETRI and Connecticut's Supply Insights all achieving Gen 2 conformance marks for their software.

Below is a collection of product announcements made during the EPCglobal US conference:

Vue Partnering With Paxar, Symbol
RFID infrastructure Network provider Vue Technologies is teaming with Paxar, a maker of RFID printer-encoders and smart labels, to offer retailers bundled start-up kits for companies interested in deploying an item-level tagging system. Retailers can implement item-level tagging in order to improve in-store inventory levels and streamline inventory-replenishment processes. Paxar and Vue are jointly marketing the kits, which are available now, in either a mobile cart package or as a stationary set-up that includes a handheld RFID interrogator. Either package can be used for tagging and inventory management. The solution is designed to provide end users with a means of quickly establishing an item-tagging solution and could be used within a retail store, in a warehouse or distribution center.

The two packages are offered in three configurations. The mobile cart solution costs $34,995 and includes a cart (designed to fit into aisles of most retail store front-of-store environments); the M9855 RFMP printer-encoder; 3,000 Gen 2 tags designed to work with retail product hangtag form factors; the TrueVUE IntelliPad antenna; the TrueVUE commissioning, site manager and essentials software modules; a laptop (to run the software) and a fixed-position Gen 2 RFID reader. The handheld solution, also costing $34,995, includes all the same products, excluding the cart, and includes a handheld RFID reader. A combined solution costs $74,995 and includes the mobile cart solution plus additional readers, 120 linear feet of installed Vue smart shelving, which integrates multiple antennas that are multiplexed into single readers, in order to reduce the number of readers required to interrogate items on shelves. It also includes the IntelliSwitch RF networking devices needed to connect the antennas into single readers, and the IntelliRouter needed to network the readers and pass tag data collected by the readers into the TrueVUE software.

Zebra Launches HF Counterpart to R110Xi Printer
RFID printer-encoder and smart label provider Zebra Technologies is now making its most popular RFID printer-encoder, the R110Xi, in a high-frequency (HF) model in addition to the existing UHF version. Bill Bulzoni, the company's director of RFID business development, says that Zebra developed the HF printer-encoder in response to demand from retailers' interested in rolling out item-level tagging initiatives in the retail and pharmaceutical industries. The R110Xi HF has an embedded M2 HF RFID reader module made by SkyeTek that encodes passive inlays compliant with ISO's 15693 and 18000-3 mode 1 standards, as well as NXP Semiconductors (formerly Philips Semiconductors) Mifare Ultralight HF chip. Because it is built on the same physical platform used in the UHF R110Xi, the HF version can print labels up to 4 inches wide, with a resolution of 203 or 300 dots per inch. It can be integrated into an existing enterprise system using XML coding. This replaces the Zebra's first HF printer-encoder, the R140 HF model, introduced more than five years ago. Zebra also sells a smaller, less rugged HF printer-encoder, the R2884-Z, which is designed for use as a desktop model for low-volume printing-encoding. The HF R110Xi is available now for $3,395.

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