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DOD Tests, Buys New ISO 18000-7 Tags From Four Companies

After testing the new active 433 MHz tags for electromagnetic interference, the U.S. military has placed orders for the devices, which could cost half as much as their predecessors.
By Claire Swedberg
The use of ISO 18000-7-compliant technology in the RFID-III contract, Burns says, could lead to the use of the same technology by DOD suppliers. This would enable the companies to then track products through the supply chain, both for their own purposes and for the Defense Department.

The DOD employs approximately 30,000 active RFID tags per month for its shipments, the bulk of which travel to the Middle East. That number will vary, depending upon the movement of troops and supplies into and out of the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Sept. 30 of this year, Unisys received the first order for the new active tags, and was given 45 days to deliver them, according to Michael Saunders, the company's federal system partner for the DOD and the U.S. Army—though he declines to indicate the exact number of tags ordered, or whether they were data-rich or license plate tags. "Unisys believes we can supply about 50 percent of the military's needs," he says.

The DOD's adoption of the ISO 18000-7 standard is saving the agency money. Saunders says the new tags provided by Unisys will cost about half as much as the previous Savi proprietary tags. "It makes good sense for the government," he indicates. Although Savi does not discuss pricing, Nelson says, "it's reasonable to assume that the costs of [these ISO 18000-7] tags are highly competitive with historical prices. As more active RFID technologies based on the ISO 18000-7 standard become even more ubiquitous and innovations arise from it, we fully expect that active RFID tag prices will continue to move downward over time."

If the current RFID-III vendors wish to provide new tags other than those already approved for the DOD, that hardware would require EMI testing, says Lieutenant Colonel Cary Ferguson, PM J-AIT's product manager. All ISO 18000-7 interrogators will only read tags that are compliant with that standard. Therefore, to become ISO 18000-7-compliant, previous tags must be upgraded through an update to their firmware.

In order for Savi's older proprietary interrogators to read the new ISO 18000-7 tags, they must be upgraded to support dual mode, enabling the reader to interrogate not only Savi's proprietary 433 MHz tags, but also tags complying with the ISO 18000-7 standard. PM J-AIT has upgraded its Radio Frequency In-Transit Visibility (RF-ITV) infrastructure so that it is capable of operating in a dual-mode environment. The RF-ITV is a system designed to assist in the implementation and integration of RFID technology into the DOD's supply chain.

According to Ferguson, the RFID-III contract has a maximum potential value of $429.4 million for products, services and maintenance. Unisys selected RFID hardware vendors Hi-G-Tek and Identec Solutions to serve as the subcontractors that would supply the actual tags. SPEC is using hardware from Identec Solutions, Northrop Grumman utilizes Evigia hardware, and Savi manufactures its own tags.

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