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Report: HF Wins First Round of RFID Frequency Battle

ODIN technologies today will release a new benchmark that could be considered the end of round one in the ongoing debate between high frequency (HF) and ultrahigh frequency (UHF) RFID technology. The winner: HF. "By technical knockout," said Patrick Sweeney, ODIN's president and CEO.
Mar 28, 2006This article was originally published by RFID Update.

March 28, 2006—ODIN technologies of Dulles, Virginia, today will release a new benchmark that could be considered the end of round one in the ongoing debate between high frequency (HF) and ultrahigh frequency (UHF) RFID technology. Sponsored by Unisys, Pharmaceutical RFID: Battle of the Frequencies reveals the results of a battery of tests ODIN executed to compare the relative merits of HF and UHF technology for item-level tagging in the pharmaceutical supply chain. The winner: HF. "By technical knockout," said Patrick Sweeney, ODIN's president and CEO.

According to what Sweeney told RFID Update, the benchmark represents the first ever scientific evaluation of HF and UHF technologies as they pertain to pharmaceutical item-level tagging. This is significant to the industry because the debate between HF and UHF is causing stagnation as pharma end users are increasingly confused about which technology to deploy. HF proponents argue, among other things, that their technology is more mature and proven to work best at the item level. Those from the other camp counter that UHF is more modern and capable and that UHF tags are cheaper. According to Sweeney, HF's clear victory in the ODIN tests will hopefully encourage EPCglobal and the US Food and Drug Administration to take a frequency stance on pharma item-level tagging that could provide the market with much-needed guidance.

The HF versus UHF debate has been complicated by the fact that most of the supporting evidence for each position is anecdotal. Furthermore, those who support one technology over the other are often biased by business interests. "There has been a battle between the frequencies for the last year, and there needed to be a referee, so we put our labs in that position," said Sweeney, who likened ODIN's approach to Switzerland's historic neutrality. "We have no vested interest in whether UHF or HF wins," he said, "and that puts us in a pretty unique camp." Sweeney also emphasized the scientific rigor of ODIN's methods, long a competitive differentiator for the company that has positioned itself as a leader in the physics of RFID.

ODIN's team tested five key characteristics of RFID tags: read distance, orientation sensitivity, material dependence, maximum encode speed, and tag quality. It then tested three use cases common to the pharmaceutical supply chain: in-motion item-level verification, which simulates reads on a pharma packaging line; item-to-case aggregation, which measures how well individual bottles can be read from within a case; and item-level reads for pallet-stacked cases, which measures how well bottles can be read once their cases have been palletized. The tests were performed for the three types of packaging common in pharmaceuticals: pill bottles, liquid filled bottles, and blister packs.

A number of tags and readers were evaluated, but for the final analysis, only the results from the best performing hardware at each frequency were used. All of the evaluated technology is available on the market today; no prototypes or development-stage products were considered. Sweeney said that ODIN did not want to perform a hypothetical HF vs. UHF comparison, but rather address the more immediate need of evaluating currently available solutions. The central thrust of the benchmark, said Sweeney, was: "What is a mature technology that we can use today within the pharma supply chain?"

ODIN worked with a wide variety of pharmaceutical supply chain stakeholders to develop the tests, as well as report sponsor Unisys, who aided in use case development and provided electronic pedigree expertise. "This benchmark was designed with the input of a dozen or so partners," said Sweeney.

When asked whether ODIN's findings have implications for item-level tagging beyond the pharmaceutical supply chain, Sweeney emphasized that the benchmark was very specific to the pharmaceutical industry. Probably 50% of the findings are applicable to other item-level applications. So by no means should UHF be dismissed altogether for the item level. "Any way you look at it, HF and UHF both have a very bright future in item-level tagging. HF is just the clear winner in the pharmaceutical supply chain."

Pharmaceutical RFID: Battle of the Frequencies is available for purchase online from ODIN's website for $395. To date, the company has released benchmarks around Gen2 and Gen1 tags, fixed RFID readers, and handheld RFID readers.
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