Dec 12, 2007There are those who believe that governments can play a critical role in helping to jump-start the development of radio frequency identification and foster a local RFID industry. Others, particularly in the United States, argue that the governments mess up everything they touch and should stay away from trying to pick winners and losers—that is, deciding which technologies they will promote and which they won't.
I grew up in the United States, where there is a great deal of skepticism about the government, and for eight years I lived in Asia, where governments have been instrumental in economic development and helped lift millions of people out of poverty. So I can see both sides of the issue.
My view is that governments should not set technology standards—that the marketplace should decide what standards, if any, best suit the needs of industry. Nor should governments fund one technology over another, because they might support a technology that doesn't serve the needs of businesses or consumers.
But governments can play a role in the development of technologies in two ways. They can support applied research being conducted by academic institutions with companies. The European Commission has taken the lead in supporting the use of RFID with the BRIDGE Project, Project Dynamite and Indisputable Key. Whether or not these projects prove successful, the funding for them helps get research institutions to focus on RFID and helps companies learn what the technology can and can't do. Our cover story, "Governments Influence RFID Adoption," shows how this kind of early investigation is helping get RFID adoption off the ground (see Governments Influence RFID Adoption).
Another way governments can help is by using emerging technologies that businesses are using, which helps support investment and adds to the lessons learned about the technology. So the U.S. Department of Defense's decision to adopt Electronic Product Code technologies being used by Wal-Mart and others helps foster, not hinder, innovation in the RFID marketplace.
The U.S. Navy is using RFID to track supplies at Naval Base Kitsap Bangor in Silverdale, Wash. (see RFID Joins the Navy). The Navy's decision to add an RFID component as it upgraded its back-end system using software from SAP was forward thinking and similar to projects that will be undertaken by many private enterprises. You can learn from the Navy, just as the Navy has learned from private companies.
Elsewhere in the issue, we look at how telecommunications companies are turning to RFID as both a new source of revenue and a way to track high-value assets internally (see Telcos' Dual Vision for RFID). AT&T and others have taken what they've learned from using RFID internally and turned it into a service that could add to their bottom line.
Learning from experience can only bolster RFID adoption, and right now, governments seem to be playing a positive role in the RFID industry.