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Why METRO's Item-Level RFID Deployment Matters

German retailer METRO last week unveiled an item-level deployment for men's apparel at its high-end Galeria Kaufhof retail store in Essen, Germany. For more on the details, see Friday's . Today's article highlights reasons why the deployment matters.
Sep 24, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

September 24, 2007—German retailer METRO last week unveiled an item-level deployment for men's apparel at its high-end Galeria Kaufhof retail store in Essen, Germany. RFID solutions provider Checkpoint Systems, Gen2 chip and reader manufacturer Impinj, and RFID network infrastructure provider Reva Systems all worked closely with METRO on the deployment. For more on the details, see Friday's METRO Unveils Warehouse-to-Checkout RFID System. Following is a list of reasons why the deployment matters.

First item-level retail deployment of its kind.

Individually tagged men's apparel items are tracked from the distribution center to the Kaufhof back room to the store floor, at numerous points around the store floor including the dressing rooms, all the way to the point of sale. By integrating many of the leading RFID retail applications in one system -- item-level tagging, supply chain visibility, back room inventory visibility, smart shelves, interactive mirrors that make cross-sell recommendations, point of sale (POS), and theft prevention -- the system manifests a vision for track-and-trace retail long held by RFID technologists but never executed so comprehensively.

Tight EPC integration.

"To me, the most exciting thing with Kaufhof is that METRO went with all the EPC ratified standards," Reva chairman and co-founder Ashley Stephenson commented to RFID Update. Indeed, the deployment relies not just on Gen2, but LLRP, ALE, and EPCIS as well. LLRP is used for interfacing with the readers, ALE for obtaining and formatting RFID-generated data, and EPCIS for data transfer and sharing. By incorporating the full suite of EPCglobal RFID standards in one system, Kaufhof is a showcase for the potential of EPC. Stephenson also noted that Kaufhof represents a first in its usage of LLRP, a standard ratified only earlier this year.

Heavy use of near-field UHF.

Near-field UHF plays a major role at Kaufhof. Recall that near-field UHF, versus its more commonly deployed sibling far-field UHF, has been championed by Impinj and others as a suitable technology for Gen2 item-level tagging in apparel, pharmaceuticals, and other applications.

At Kaufhof, near-field UHF offered METRO a more tightly-controlled read field that was critical in areas like point of sale and smart shelves. "In order to confine the read zone so that only the correct garments were read (e.g., at point of sale terminals, on display shelves), it is necessary to use the near field. Also, reading closely stacked garments on the display tables and at point of sale requires using near field," explained Impinj co-founder and CTO Chris Diorio in an email. "However, there are points within the store where a more wide range of garments should be read and the far field was employed. We expect that a mix of far and near field will be implemented in many retail environments in the future."

Note that both near-field and far-field UHF use the same tags and readers; only the reader antennas differ.

Excellent performance. In Europe.

METRO had defined performance criteria that the participating vendors had to meet. According to Diorio, those criteria were met and exceeded. "Everyone on this project was incredibly happy," he said. "The readability is exceptionally good, in general 99.9 percent. It's way above METRO's minimum read criteria at every read point in the store."

This showing is made all the more impressive by its European setting. Recall that Gen2 RFID deployments in Europe have historically been challenged by restrictions on radio frequency transmissions. However, those challenges may soon be a thing of the past. Diorio explained that vastly improved European regulations are in the final stages of ratification, and that they are actually designed around optimal RFID performance. While formal approval of the new regulations isn't expected until this coming January, METRO was able to get a waiver and allowed to design the Kaufhof deployment under the new rules. "The new European regulatory requirements are really fantastic," commented Diorio. "They provide the best RFID performance worldwide."

Thus, assuming the new regulations pass as everyone expects they will, the Kaufhof deployment may represent the nail in the coffin for an "RF-unfriendly" Europe.
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