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RFID Journal LIVE a Signpost of RFID Market Maturity

RFID Journal LIVE! 2008 showed signs the RFID industry is maturing. Many vendors emphasized their partnerships and ease of integration rather than touting proprietary technology and hard-to-verify performance claims.
Apr 21, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

April 21, 2008—Las Vegas is known for excess, and RFID marketers aren't always known for their restraint. So when Sin City hosted the RFID Journal LIVE! exhibition and conference last week, the hype potential was high.

Instead, the industry showcased its maturity, with focused vendors carefully explaining how their various offerings could solve specific business problems. Vendors were often able to provide real customer references, rather than claiming confidential, anonymous installations, as has been common in past years. (See News Wrap-Up from RFID Journal LIVE 2008, Part 1 of 2 and News Wrap-Up from RFID Journal LIVE 2008, Part 2 of 2 for previous reports from the event.)

The traditional RFID marketing emphasis on "specsmanship" -- touting products as being fastest, smallest, most accurate, or cheapest -- was largely missing. In its place were explanations about how vendors' products could integrate with IT systems, and frank discussions as to if and when RFID makes business sense in target markets.

The event did not start out that way. The opening general session featured a presentation by Sam's Club executive vice president Greg Johnston that shed little new light on the retailer's RFID program. He said the company is benefiting from its in-store RFID systems and that it strongly believes suppliers will too -- but did not provide many specifics, especially about value for suppliers. The presentation mostly confirmed the program parameters that RFID Update first reported in January (see Sam's Club Suppliers May Face RFID Fines from Wal-Mart and Sam's Club Wants Item-Level RFID Tagging by 2010).

Microsoft followed Sam's Club on stage and provided several specific examples of how real companies have improved their business by combining RFID and sensor systems with its newly-RFID-enabled BizTalk software. Microsoft took the opportunity to introduce Microsoft BizTalk RFID Mobile, a software component that installs on mobile RFID readers to simplify data integration with back-end systems. Five hardware makers announced their support, which can be preinstalled on new devices, and two software companies have already developed applications.

The Microsoft product was one of the most important and most symbolic of the show. Important, because it provides another infrastructure building block that will make RFID easier for companies to deploy and integrate with legacy systems -- much like Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system did for handheld computers earlier this decade. Symbolic, because it illustrates the emphasis on integration that was evident at numerous exhibitors, who often highlighted software rather than hardware capabilities. Intermec, for example, announced it is one of five handheld reader makers to support the Microsoft software, and also announced its IF61 stationary reader can be loaded with IBM's WebSphere Premises Server middleware and OATSystems' OATedge software to provide RFID data processing at the reader.

Wavetrend announced it now supports Microsoft and IBM integration software in its active RFID product line (see the IBM announcement here and the Microsoft announcement here).

These developments make RFID easier to use -- and potentially less expensive to deploy -- by eliminating the need to develop interfaces between RFID and enterprise IT systems or to maintain separate servers to act as a gateway.

There were similar developments in real-time locating systems (RTLS). Vendors have traditionally competed on the strength of their locating system technology -- e.g. WiFi, ultra-wideband (UWB), Zigbee, ultrasound, etc. -- but at RFID Journal LIVE! several were promoting their partnerships, software, and support for other technologies. For example, InnerWireless, a WiFi and UWB RTLS provider, announced a partnership with ThingMagic to support the latter's Gen2 passive UHF technology in its hardware and software solutions. Time Domain, which makes UWB RTLS systems, announced its systems are now supported in Omnitrol Networks' manufacturing visibility solution, which supports a variety of RFID and other inputs. AeroScout partnered with mobile computer maker PsionTeklogix to offer integrated asset visibility solutions.

Other RTLS providers also made news. Sonitor Technologies, which uses ultrasound for location, announced new tags for identifying hospital patients and detecting falls. RFind told RFID Update it had never exhibited at an RFID show before. The three-year-old company uses proprietary tag-to-tag communication technology that reportedly reduces the number of readers needed to cover an area. The company's active UHF tags can communicate about 500 meters, according to CEO Sharon Barnes.

Long-range passive UHF demonstrated by Mojix was the big attention-getter at the show. The company consistently drew large crowds to its booth when it demonstrated how Gen2-standard tags could be read from hundreds of feet away using its technology. (RFID Update was briefed on the technology prior to the show. See Startup Touts 600-foot Read Range for Passive RFID for coverage.)

Overall, the event was well produced and well received. Conference speakers reported good attendance at their sessions, and exhibitors were happy with the quantity and quality of visitors at their booths. Organizers said the event set records for exhibitors and attendees. Record attendance claims are a historical staple of RFID shows, but this year the claim, like the exhibit itself, didn't feel like hype.

Las Vegas will also host the next major RFID industry event, the RFID World exhibition and conference in September.
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