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Making RFID Easier

Simple solutions that can be deployed without any expertise would allow companies to track many items not currently being closely tracked—and this could lead to bigger deployments down the road.
By Mark Roberti
Feb 13, 2012I recently received an e-mail from a person working at an art gallery, who wanted to know where she could purchase a simple radio frequency identification system that would enable her to tag items being moved into storage, so that they could be quickly inventoried and retrieved when needed. Regrettably, I had to confess that I was unaware of such a solution. And I've had to give other people that answer as well. I think it's unfortunate, because based on the volume of calls and e-mails I receive, I know that there is a demand for simple, easy-to-deploy RFID solutions allowing someone to quickly count items and transfer collected data to a laptop or a desktop computer. I'm sure that for every call I get, there are dozens of people who never contact me.

And it's not just small companies and organizations. RFID is a bottom-up technology, not top-down—that is, CEOs don't decide they want radio frequency identification. Most have never seen RFID in action, and don't understand its significance. Most projects begin with a problem in the trenches. Once a company's particular issue is addressed, the technology and the solutions provider supplying it gain credibility within that firm. Other projects are launched, and upper management eventually begins to understand what RFID can do, and starts harnessing it on an enterprise level.

But most RFID vendors want to sell millions of tags, thousands of readers and software that will be deployed enterprise-wide. There are a few companies that have developed simpler solutions. RFID Me, for example, includes an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) reader in a USB dongle, along with; the dongle reader is good for applications at a desk, but a user obviously can't carry a laptop into the field to read tags. The solution was created by Microelectronics Technology Inc. (MTI), RF-iT Solutions, NXP Semiconductors, austriamicrosystems and Avery Dennison software (see RFID News Roundup: MTI and Partners Unveil RFID Kit for Small Office/Home Office Market and Home-Shopping Theme Park to Employ RFID).

What's more, IDBlue created a UHF reader for cell phones, and offers starter kits aimed at resellers looking to develop applications, rather than end users that want to use the tools (see RFID News Roundup: IDBlue Unveils RFID Starter Kit for Smartphones and Tablets). I hope resellers will quickly develop apps that small businesses or single departments within a larger company can utilize.

Last week, we officially re-launched RFID Connect, our social-networking, event-planning and product search site (see A New Resource for End Users and RFID Journal Re-launches RFID Connect). I hosted a webinar for RFID solution providers (see How to Get Your Products in Front of End Users on the World's Largest RFID Social Network), encouraging them to create simple solutions for small tasks, so that RFID could reduce the time required to count items by 90 percent or more.

I don't know whether the vendor community will respond. Solutions providers might feel they need to focus on big projects that bring in a great deal of revenue. And I do understand the importance of big showcase deployments that can lead to other large opportunities—but I also think that small projects often lead to those bigger jobs. A company using RFID to decrease the amount of time it takes to inventory items—for example, files, user manuals, specimens or works of art—will likely see the technology's power and decide to use it to track myriad other items as well.

I hope more simple solutions will be created, and that RFID Connect will enable end users to find—and begin deploying—these solutions.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.
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Dan Sheffield 2012-02-16 07:53:29 AM
President of Global Customer Service and Business Developmen Hi Mark, RGIS has attempted to keep up with RFID development as it relates to our customers in retail since around 2001. We too have noticed that the onboarding process for retailer's use on the sales floor is fairly complex and the industry needs a simpler solution. We are begining to develop a service based solution with a RFID supplier of tags and equipment that would do just that. After reading your article I was wondering if you would mind sharing a few of the companies that have contacted you looking for a simple solution. As we build our solution out we are looking to engage with those that might provide feedback or would like to pilot. Thank you for any assistance you are willing to provide. Dan
Stan Drobac 2012-02-16 10:22:49 PM
Shrink-wrapped RFID for small users Mark - What you suggest should indeed be practical, but it has proven difficult to implement for some of the reasons you mention. Smaller developers/integrators will have a tough time selling enough systems to justify the development and support resources needed, while large players have been skeptical about the opportunity being large enough to "move the needle". I've long thought that there should be an opportunity for a shrink-wrapped package that could be sold at Staples/Office Depot/OfficeMax. It would consist of a handheld reader, some tags, and software. The logical source would be 3M or Avery Dennison Office Products (now also 3M), as they have the RFID know-how, the channels and the consumer brands to make it work. Unfortunately, this is one of those new segments where no market numbers exist and where penetration could take quite a long time. Still, I'm sure it will happen at some point. You can go to an office store today and buy a shrink-wrapped barcode package with a scanner and software - one day there will be an RFID package sitting on the shelf next to it.
Mark Roberti 2012-02-21 12:56:08 PM
Bridging the Gap I agree with both comments, but I think there is an opportunity to sell USB readers and tags, NFC tags, handhelds and tags with a little software that makes them useful. What we are really missing is some simple software that would allow people to start using RFID right away. If that were to happen, I think it would spread fairly quickly and small deployments would grow into bigger engagements. Mark

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