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U.N.'s Universal Postal Union Gears Up for Large RFID Pilot

A test involving the postal systems in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates demonstrated RFID's suitability for measuring the performance of mail delivery services.
By Beth Bacheldor
For the pilot, EPC Gen 2 passive UHF RFID tags from Motorola and active tags from Lyngsoe Systems were inserted into the test letters' envelopes. Lyngsoe's PT23 tags have 32 bytes of programmable memory and a battery life of approximately four and a half years. When a PT23 tag enters a read field, a 125 kHz signal transmitted by an RFID reader activates. When powered up, the tag's processor begins running and uses the 433.92 MHz high-frequency band to transmit the tag's ID to the interrogator. After this occurs, the transponder shuts down and does not reawaken until the transponder enters another read field.

Each passive or active tag was encoded with a unique ID number, Aghayan says. The tags were flexible enough to withstand all mail-handling processes and equipment, including sorting machines, and weighed less than 12 grams. As such, she says, they did not affect postage rates.

Passive readers and antennas from Motorola, along with active interrogators and antennas from Lyngsoe, were installed at the doors or receiving areas of three sorting centers—one each in Doha, Qatar; Dubai, UAE; and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia—through which all inbound international mail must pass. In Doha, a second passive reader from Lyngsoe Systems reads the EPC Gen 2 tags once more. According to Aghayan, the pilot included a combination of reader antennas; some were attached to the sides of doorways using brackets mounted just above ground level, while others were fixed above doorways. In Riyadh, for instance, the Lyngsoe's active-tag reader antennas were mounted on the inside of a doorway, adjacent to an offloading platform and directly above a conveyor system used at the sorting center to transport incoming international mail to X-ray equipment.

Although the pilot illustrated that RFID technology would be a viable tool for the UPU's GMS initiative, there was one period, toward the end of the pilot, in which the performance of the Lyngsoe readers and antennas dropped by about 8 percent. This drop-off, it was determined, was caused because, as outside temperatures rose, nearby doors had been closed to help keep the indoor temperatures cool. Thus, the doors, made of heavy metal, interfered with the equipment.

With the RFID project involving Dubai, UAE and Saudi Arabia under its belt, the UPU is now gearing up for a large-scale GMS pilot, set to commence in April 2009, that will involve the deployment of RFID systems in Dubai, UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well as in all other participating countries (a total of 20 initially, with another 30 joining in 2010), and the development of requisite data and analysis programs. The pilot, which will involve integrated testing of the full system, is expected to launch in July 2009, and will provide an opportunity to test the various elements of the GMS system, as well as to introduce necessary adjustments in order to prepare for the 2010 rollout.

Q-Post's Aghayan is scheduled to discuss the three-month trial among Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE at RFID Journal LIVE! Middle East, RFID Journal's first conference in the region. The event will be held on Jan. 5-7, 2009, at the InterContinental Hotel Festival City in Dubai.

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