Is the RFID Industry Ready for Growth?

By Mark Roberti

There are two important issues that need to be addressed as the technology becomes mainstream.

Providers of radio frequency identification technology have done a good job during the past few years of developing products to meet specific end users' requirements. Need a tag to track metal hoists? It now exists. Looking for a reader that can fit into your pocket and connect to your mobile phone via Bluetooth? We have that. Want software that can manage almost every aspect of your store operations in real time? No problem.

The cornucopia of available products means that as end users realize RFID can solve some of the business issues with which they've struggled for years, the sales and deployment cycle will shorten (RFID Journal data shows this is already beginning to happen), and adoption will gather steam. But I suspect the RFID industry is not completely ready for the growth that lies ahead.

I say this because people tend to be surprised when an emerging technology goes from a slow-growth phase to the hyper-growth phase. Cumulative personal computer sales, for example, grew from a little more than 17 million units during the first 10 years of their existence to nearly 194 million units throughout the following decade. That means tag and reader manufacturers will need to invest heavily in production capacity. Some are doing that now in anticipation of the growth to come. Some are not.

A bigger obstacle to adoption, in my view, is the lack of solution providers that can deploy RFID systems successfully. When you look at the RFID landscape, you see a lot of companies that produce tags and labels, as well as readers in many form factors. There are a few firms that produce software, but there are very few that can actually deploy the systems. In fact, some hardware and software companies have begun deploying systems themselves simply to meet the demand for their products.

The good news is there is a healthy crop of young engineers coming out of universities worldwide that have been learning about radio frequency identification. Many of these students have spent time working in labs at the University of Parma in Italy, Bremen University in Germany, the University of Arkansas in the United States (that lab has since moved to Alabama's Auburn University—see Arkansas RFID Research Center Moving to Auburn University), Fudan University in China, and other great institutions. Many have worked on actual deployments at end-user companies as part of their education.

But how do companies know who has the training and experience to deploy their system? I have been working with a group of RFID industry professionals for the past two years to set up the International RFID Institute to develop certification examinations that will enable companies to hire people who have demonstrated a certain level of knowledge (see A New RFID Certification). The first exam was offered at RFID Journal LIVE! 2014, in April. A total of 41 people from 13 countries sat for the test—which, based on the results and the feedback of examinees, the Institute is now revising. It is also expanding the bank of questions. The Institute plans to offer another exam in conjunction with RFID Journal LIVE! Europe, taking place on Oct. 23 in London, and is seeking partners to deliver the tests year-round.

The International RFID Institute needs the assistance of more subject-matter experts to create and review questions (you can apply here), and large RFID companies to provide financial assistance to develop more advanced exams (you can learn about membership here). It will be crucial to have trained technology implementers as demand for RFID systems increases, so I encourage everyone in the industry to support the organization.

There are challenges for RFID providers during the slow-growth period of technology adoption. But there are also challenges during the hyper-growth phase. The time to start addressing the latter is now.

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.