Intel, Retailers Form EPC Group

By Jonathan Collins

The chipmaker and a trio of major European retailers create a working group to speed the adoption of Electronic Product Code technology.

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Three of Europe’s largest retailers and proponents of EPC deployment have joined forces with Intel to form an independent working group to complement the efforts of the EPCglobal but not be part of it.The new group, called the EPC Retail Users Group of Europe, brings retailers Carrefour Group from France, Metro Group from

Jon Stine

Germany and Tesco PLC from the U.K. together with semiconductor giant Intel, which will play a managing and organizing role, act as a sponsor by providing the group with hardware and financial assistance, and advise the retailers on their planned EPC deployments.

“Intel understands how to put together hardware, software and middleware as well as the issues of data synchronization. We were the architects of Metro Group’s Future Store and we worked with Tesco on its RFID pilots—both times working alongside IBM,” says Jon Stine, global industry manager in Intel’s retail and consumer packaged goods unit. Data synchronization is the process of making sure that the data collected from readers is managed so that flow of information results in an accurate and real-time understanding of events in the supply chain. Deploying an RFID network is of little or no value unless the data it provides can be collected, accessed and managed using an array of hardware and software that has to be brought together.

Given the size and scale of their operations, the three retailers bring significant clout to the development and adoption of EPC technology. Carrefour is Europe's largest retailer and the second largest in the world, while the Metro Group ranks third in Europe and fifth in the world. Tesco is the largest supermarket chain in the U.K.

All three retailers have been active in pushing the development of EPC and deploying RFID technology pilots. Leading the way, Metro Group recently announced plans to deploy an EPC network to track RFID tagged shipments from its top 100 suppliers into its distribution centers and through to delivery at its German stores by the end of this year. The announcement echoed a similar January 2005 deadline set last year by U.S. retailer Wal-Mart.

According to its members, the new group will provide a forum to share information and experience in a way that should help speed the development and deployment of EPC networks within their European operations. They also hope it will provide a forum that focuses on specific challenges in the European market.

According to Intel, the three retailers are looking to combine their experience and knowledge on a cultural as well as at the technical level of how best to deploy the technology and manage the data it creates. The group will share details on how to tackle cultural issues such as consumer and employee reactions to EPC deployment and will analyze of the potential effects of emerging European Union directives relating to frequency and privacy issues.

The group says the results will be presented in documents and white papers on successful implementations, technologies and usage models that it will then share with the retail industry in Europe.

Intel maintains that its involvement with the group stems from the potential for RFID to drive demand for its core computing products, the Intel processors, chipsets, motherboards and other components used by PDAs, PCs and servers. The company has no intention to play a business management role. “We are not systems integrators. The only way we will make money [from this] is when we sell something with Intel [technology] Inside,” says Stine.

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