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GS1 Australia Is Optimistic ACMA Will Adopt 4-Watt UHF Power Limit

By year's end, the Australian Communication and Media Authority says it will finish weighing the results of trials testing the effect of 4-watt UHF RFID devices on the nation's GSM-based mobile phone systems.
By Dave Friedlos
Aug 04, 2008The Australian government could soon bring the nation's passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID systems into line with international practices by upping the allowable power level of RFID devices to 4 watts.

In general, the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA)—the government body responsible for regulating radio frequencies in that country—restricts the use of UHF RFID to 1 watt EIRP (effective isotropic radiated power). The majority of nations around the world limit RFID applications to 4 watts EIRP or 2 watts ERP (effective radiated power), which is equivalent to 3.2 watts EIRP.

Sue Schmid
In 2005, ACMA awarded GS1 Australia with a scientific license allowing the standards-setting organization to authorize and oversee licensing arrangements with Australian companies to test site-specific RFID systems operating between 920 and 926 MHz and at up to 4 watts (see Australia's UHF Readers Get a Boost). In 2006 and 2007, it reissued that license (see ACMA Renews GS1 Australia's UHF RFID License).

In July 2008, however, ACMA introduced restrictions when it renewed GS1 Australia's four-watt scientific license, enabling only existing authorized users to continue with current applications. Other conditions of the renewed license include that these authorized third parties advise GS1 Australia of any changes to the parameters of existing test setups, and that suppliers, manufacturers or vendors of 4-watt RFID readers, antennas and transmitters not supply or add new equipment to current tests.

Despite the cutback on third-party licenses, Sue Schmid, GS1 Australia's general manager of standards development, sees ACMA's actions as a positive step for radio frequency identification in her country. "The goal of GS1 Australia," she says, "was to facilitate changes to the Low Interference Potential Device (LIPD) regulations that would allow any company to operate an RFID system up to 4 watts without the need for a license."

The purpose of the field trials was to test UHF EPC RFID systems at up to 4 watts in close proximity to GSM-based mobile phone systems, in order to alleviate ACMA concerns that RFID could potentially cause interference. Over the past 12 months, Schmid explains, GS1 Australia has overseen a number of tests aimed at easing concerns regarding such possible interference. One such test involved placing interrogators on a rooftop and pointing them at a nearby mobile phone base station.

"ACMA wanted us to gather data and scientific evidence, and we have done that," Schmid says. "Now that ACMA has the data, it will examine the wording of licenses before going out to public review and, finally, to parliament for ratification. The restriction on new licenses is actually an indication that ACMA is moving beyond testing and on to the process of changing the regulations. The ball is now in ACMA's court, but we are cautiously optimistic that changes will be made by the end of the year."

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