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A Decade of Progress

An RFID evangelist, cheerleader and agent provocateur shares his views on the industry's failures and successes during the past 10 years.
By John Greaves
Experienced field operatives were rare. Joe Leone—at that time, working at Matrics—was one of only a handful of individuals with deployment experience. This is still the case, for there has never been, especially in the UHF field, a deployment engineer course. (Please do not quote the offerings that do exist, as they are classroom-based. Experience in RFID is unique to site, and built up over deployment experience, not by reading books.) The resources applied today are still feeling in the dark for success and, most importantly, for ease of deployment. There are still too many UHF proposals that fail at implementation, due to the artifacts' crudeness and the lack of sophistication in both the buyer and the deliverer.

There can be no surprise that the majority of installations today, particularly in the United States, look more like Fred Karno's circus than a professional install, and this also leads to the general perception of a lack of professional competency in the industry. Plant managers, DC operators and retailers, airport facility managers and personnel at secure facilities consider the installation "temporary." We must face up to this fact, and extend the deployment into the proper type of conduit, and the better maintenance profiles. When you see, all too often, antennas coated in dust, Kit Kat wrappers and cigarette ends—yes, this has been seen at more than one installation site—it becomes clear that the installation and the technology are not respected.

GTAG had considered a certification program for installers, but had recognized that no two installations are the same, no two application environments identical, and that each environment offers its own unique challenges to an installer.

Thirdly, the tsunami of failed deliverables grew faster than the success stories, even though the failures were centered around passive UHF—and, in most cases, were the result of a lack of due diligence on the buyer's part, as well as a duplicitous channel to market by the vendor. The impact was felt mainly by the passive UHF market. The advent of the notion of EPC technology simply compounded the vision, portraying as it did an even more complex and expensive investment path.

EPC is a superb tool—one that, over time, will become the normative numbering methodology, and IT infrastructure, for some industry sectors and applications (though not all). The need for an Electronic Product Code that has portability over all mediums—and, in particular, across all geographies—is fundamental, and the work of ETSI, CEN and GS1 in this area, under the ICT banner, is evidence of just how fast this window, and risk, is opening to abuse and a lack of standards.

Fourthly, standards became the holy grail—no standard, no way. While standards can be useful in advancing an industry or creating interoperability, they are not the solution, nor the reason, for application or deployment failure. Standards describe, they should not prescribe—and if they do, then the result is failure.

Now, in 2010, a decade after the great beginning—the one-cent tag, the painless ultra-low-cost miracle—we are faced with significant challenges, a collision of outcomes that will prove to be both the worst and best of times for some parties.

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