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An Interview With Impinj CEO Bill Colleran

Impinj CEO Bill Colleran spoke with RFID Journal Editor Mark Roberti about the state of the market for UHF EPC systems, trends for 2008 and Impinj's product plans.
Dec 25, 2007Impinj has emerged as an important provider of ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID systems based on EPCglobal's second-generation air-interface protocol for passive UHF tags. The company's Monza chips are used in many RFID tags, and it has also developed a line of Speedway interrogators and innovative near-field UHF tags designed for item-level tagging.

As the RFID industry enters a new year, RFID Journal editor Mark Roberti spoke with Bill Colleran, Impinj's president and CEO, about the state of the market for UHF EPC systems, as well as trends for 2008 and Impinj's product plans. Here are excerpts from that interview.

Bill Colleran
RFID Journal: What trends are you seeing in the marketplace?
Bill Colleran: We're seeing more of an emphasis around bundled solutions and closed-loop opportunities. Three years ago, everything was about seamlessly integrated trading partners, with RFID making it all work. That will happen, but as people have focused on how to get an ROI today, they are looking either at solutions in certain verticals, such as pharmaceuticals or apparel, or they are looking at closed-loop applications, where the company spending the money for the infrastructure and the tags is the same entity that gets the benefit. They can get an ROI without having to rely on collaboration with trading partners, which is harder to pull off.

We also see item-level tagging emerging as an earlier driver of adoption—more so, even, than supply chain mandates. We started doing item-level work 18 months ago, and it has taken root. We see it as a big driver of volumes. So in our marketing and product development, we are focused on item-level technology, and on solutions for closed-loop applications.

RFID Journal: What is happening with adoption in the pharmaceutical space?
Colleran: The California legislation [requiring drug manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors to create e-pedigrees to track and trace all prescription drugs distributed within the state] is due to take effect in January of 2009. That is looming, and companies are looking for ways to meet the requirements. Some feel RFID is a new-fangled technology, and they don't want to take technical risks with something that is critical to the enterprise. So they are looking at 2-D bar codes and stuff that no one in the pharmaceutical industry was talking about.

Six or eight months ago, the debate was over, is it going to be HF or UHF? Today, the question seems to be, do we use bar codes or RFID? We are still fighting the good fight and believe we have good technical solutions that solve the reliability problems.

RFID Journal: Is there an opportunity to start with bar codes and transition to RFID?
Colleran: It depends on how you are going to implement. If you put a tag on every bottle on a fill line and you encode data, you could do transition pretty easily. But it turns out doing the encoding on a line at full speed is pretty complicated. We've been promoting the idea of a commissioning station. Rather than doing the encoding at the full line rate, why not do the coding when you've put the bottles in a case, when things are happening at a slower speed? If you go with that approach, you can't do 2-D bar code because the bottles are in a case and you don't have line of sight.

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