IoT and RFID: What’s the Connection?

The Internet is allowing for more hardware and human connectivity. How should industry respond to balance efficiency with privacy?
Published: September 11, 2019

The rate at which businesses are connecting through Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in 2019 is rapidly exceeding even the most aggressive forecasted projections. With broadband Internet continuing to be more available and the cost of technology and connecting online decreasing in general, a growing number of devices with Wi-Fi capabilities and IoT connectivity will be an ongoing trend. From the automobile industry and the public sector to wearable technologies and in-home personal use, the world is becoming more digitally connected with each passing day. The additional advancement of 5G technology, which is already leaving its footprint in Asia and Europe and has begun to reach consumers in the United States, will only accelerate IoT functionality and accessibility.

The increased efficiency of downloading data that 5G now provides IoT-connected devices (for example, movies can be downloaded to mobile phones within a matter of seconds with 5G) will continue to drive greater demand. This, combined with the speed at which data can be analyzed and transmitted into cloud networks, is fueling massive investments in technology.

For the radio frequency identification sector, the implications are numerous. Decreased costs will benefit the industry—most notably through smaller devices more commonly equipped with RFID chips and sensors. In addition, the IoT is viewed as a platform that improves workflow efficiency while increasing employee engagement and is thus facilitating new business models and strategies. Increased connectivity and the volume of connected devices are also creating a “data deluge.” As a result, data has become a commodity as companies can leverage more data collection at a cheaper and less time-consuming rate compared to traditional methods.

One recent survey found that the average organization managed 9.7 petabytes of data in 2018, up from 1.45 petabytes only two years prior (see Data Protection: Top 3 Business Challenges). But as more devices collect more information from consumers, RFID executives will have to learn how to balance the sheer volume of data for logistical and other business-related means while considering privacy implications and how to protect customers. Taking advantage of this data delivery and other IoT-connectivity benefits appropriately will make the difference between those businesses that balance today’s sophisticated technology with the ongoing privacy rights and expectations of the public at large, especially as the IoT market continues to mature.

The Growing IoT Market
The United States remains the world’s largest market for the IoT segment, particularly in the manufacturing, automotive and health-care sectors, according to a new report by Information Services Group, a global technology research and advisory firm. Additionally, North America is carving out a place as the leading market for the “Internet of Medical Things,” an amalgamation of medical devices and applications that can connect to health-care information technology systems using networking technologies through the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI).

Other countries, however, are catching up and, in some cases, are soon projected to exceed IoT utilization compared to the Americas. Spending on the IoT in the Asia Pacific region, for example, is expected to exceed $503.4 billion by 2023 compared to the $341.6 billion to be spent in the Americas. In Europe, the Middle East and Africa, investments in the IoT over the next four years will reach an estimated $279.6 billion. Worldwide, the largest amount of spending on the IoT is seen through connected vehicles, smart homes and cities (public safety, emergency response, etc.), remote health monitoring, personal wellness and freight monitoring (see Internet of Things: Market Spending and Trend Outlook for 2018 and Beyond). The U.S. connected car market, said to be the “world’s largest and most mature,” is expected to grow by double digits during the coming year (see ISG Provider Lens).

Additionally, more U.S. hospitals are utilizing RFID for the monitoring of bandages and other supplies, and to monitor patients by replacing barcode ID bracelets with RFID-enabled bracelets that allow for tracking patients as they move around a facility, potentially into harmful environments. Hospitals are also reducing check-in times, sometimes by several minutes, by placing RFID tags on ID cards for patients who have previously visited. In all, the global RFID market is projected to reach $27.56 billion by 2025, according to a recent RFID market report by Energias Market Research.

A Disconnect to the Connected Relationship?
In some cases, the growth of connected devices is not being met with improved best practices from businesses. This reality can place consumers’ privacy and security at risk. Although industry and governmental mandates are regulating technologies and promoting standards that allow for interoperability among devices, the IoT inherently exposes industry and consumers to more security threats. Privacy, as it relates to data collecting and sharing, also remains at the forefront of ethical and legal conversations.

For instance, The Internet of Things Improvement Act—introduced this spring by the U.S. Senate’s Cybersecurity Caucus—requires all IoT devices purchased by the U.S. government to meet minimum security standards, including measures for secure product development and identity management. As part of the bill, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) must issue recommendations for IoT device manufacturers by Sept. 30, 2019. NIST will also be required to work with cybersecurity researchers and industry experts to develop guidance on coordinated vulnerability disclosures to ensure flaws are addressed when they are discovered.

Appropriate data storage, tracking and/or analyzing also appear to be lacking. According to researchers at SRI International, an independent, nonprofit research center, most IoT devices and networks do not include basic security and privacy practices as part of their design, and those who manage IoT systems are not properly informed when it comes to making decisions that affect the security and privacy of their systems. This creates problems when data is collected with the promise of delivering benefits to the health, safety and productivity of the end user. According to a study conducted by Gartner, a technology research and advisory company based in Stamford, Conn., the biggest barrier to the IoT is that most enterprises do not know what to do with the technology, and there is concern over who will lead IoT initiatives.

IoT Strategies for the RFID Industry
One of the more significant issues has been the management of the data flowing in from the growing number of RFID tags. According to researchers, companies should consider deploying centrally managed and centrally available solutions through the use of cloud-based applications and services that can take more responsibilities away from IT support at the point of activity to reduce associated costs. Building intelligence into tags through the utilization of AI and more competition with how RFID antenna are designed will be key undertakings.

In addition, technology is rapidly evolving to allow for direct printing of electronics in products as they are rendered, and flexible RFID tags that can be combined with printed sensors, printed batteries, thin-film photovoltaic solar cells and other technologies will become more standard. Money may also be saved through electronic printing and conductive ink technologies that enable companies to print chip-less RFID tags onsite.

Gartner researchers claim that implementing proper IoT solutions requires an IoT architect “who must be able to employ solution-level thinking by discussing what IoT specifically can and should do for a specific organization.” Balancing proven productivity while maintaining a vision for the future, such as allowing for predictive organizational maintenance, is essential.

David Sawatzke is the VP marketing at Xoriant, a California-based product engineering, software development and technology services firm with offices in the United States, Europe and Asia. The company implements emerging technologies to deliver innovative solutions that accelerate clients’ digital transformation initiatives. Xoriant’s practices include product engineering, cloud and infrastructure, security, big data and analytics, data management and governance and the IoT.