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What Is RFID?

Some people have questioned why RFID Journal considers certain technologies to be radio frequency identification.
By Mark Roberti
Sep 12, 2011An article that we recently published referred to "RuBee RFID," which apparently upset some of our readers (see Pantex Nuclear Weapons Plant Adopts RuBee RFID to Track Tools, Chemicals). RuBee, they insist, is not radio frequency identification, and RFID Journal's effort to characterize "every wireless technology as RFID" is not helpful to anyone.

Of course, we don't consider all wireless technologies to be RFID. We don't report on Bluetooth, for instance. Our editorial position has always been that the term "RFID" covers a variety of systems and technologies that employ radio waves to identify objects remotely. I would add that the primary function of these systems is identification for the purpose of managing objects or conducting transactions.

Our view is that if something computes, then it is a computer. And if something uses the lower end of the electromagnetic spectrum—where radio waves reside—to identify objects, then it is, by definition, RFID. Referring to RuBee on its Web site, the IEEE Standards Association states, "This standard defines the air interface for radiating transceiver radio tags using long wavelength signals (kilometric and hectometric frequencies, [less than] 450 kHz)." The primary purpose of most RuBee deployments is to identify objects (often weapons), in order to better manage those objects. Hence, it seems pretty clear to me that RuBee is a form of RFID.

Whether discussing RuBee, ultra-wideband (UWB), Wi-Fi or other RFID technologies, RFID Journal's goal is to help companies figure out how to use wireless tags to better track and manage their assets, finished inventory, people, raw materials, reusable containers, tools, work-in-process, vehicles and other elements of their business, which can not easily be tracked using any other technology. To that end, RFID Journal—as well as all RFID vendors, for that matter—faces two primary challenges: First, RFID is a brand-new kind of technology, and second, there are many different types of RFID that work in particular applications.

What do I mean when I say that RFID is a brand-new kind of technology? Well, when the first power saws were invented, they replaced handsaws, but people immediately understood what they were all about. The same holds true for landline and mobile phones. RFID is not replacing anything, really. Some call it a radio bar code, and that might be true in certain applications, but RFID enables far more business applications than bar codes could. Kevin Ashton, a co-founder of the Auto-ID Center, once said something to the effect that calling RFID a radio bar code is like calling a car a motorized horse (see Motley Fool Rule Breakers: Interview with RFID pioneer Kevin Ashton).


John Stevens 2011-09-15 05:33:04 AM
Question ? Mark Why not call everything that does electronic tracking and electronic visibility "Auto-ID" .. that's what US Govt does (DoD, DoE) and many others so clear technology basket's and names. - whats wrong with Auto-ID ? Regards John
Mark Roberti 2011-09-16 07:57:13 AM
Good question All RFID technologies are automatic identification technologies. Auto-ID is a broader term that covers bar codes, touch memory buttons, biometric technologies and other technologies. We sometimes refer to “RFID and other auto-ID technologies,” so we clearly place RFID within the broader context of auto-ID. However, we are a trade publication focused on a single segment of auto-ID—namely RFID. So for us to call RFID auto-ID would be like a trade publication focused on tablets calling all tablets just “computers.” That strikes me as confusing and unhelpful to the person trying to research RFID. The DOD calls their active RFID program "active RFID" and their passive RFID program "passive RFID." These programs are run out of their AIT offices (AIT stands for Automatic Identification Technologies), which makes sense because the DOD also uses bar codes,m touch memory buttons and other auto-ID technologies. Also, I would point out that the term “RFID” is searched on Google an average of 1.5 million times per month, while the term “auto-ID” is searched 110,000 times a month. So by calling RFID systems “RFID,” we are helping people find the information they are looking for. Mark

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