Keeping the Faith Six Years On

By Mark Roberti

RFID Journal just celebrated its sixth anniversary, and my faith in the capitalist system continues to be rewarded.


Six years ago (on March 1, 2002), RFID Journal published its first article. I don’t recall what it was about, but I do remember people even within the industry being very skeptical that I could earn a living publishing news and case studies about radio frequency identification (which, at the time, almost no one had ever heard of). And I recall a lot of people telling me why RFID would never catch on. Comments ranged from it being “too expensive” to “unreliable performance” and “a niche technology at best.”

I listened to the skeptics carefully and examined their claims. After all, I was in business to make money, and I didn’t want to launch something that was going to fail. But I believed that almost all of the reasons why RFID would never catch on could be overcome. One article in Business 2.0, for instance, said RFID would never take off because all of the data would overwhelm back-end systems. Yeah, I thought, no one will ever figure out how to filter data.

My belief in RFID stems now, as it did then, from a core faith in our capitalist system. Here’s the thing: Tens of billions of dollars—maybe hundreds of billions—are lost each year in the global supply chain due to having too much or too little inventory, misdirected shipments, theft, counterfeiting, diversion and other problems. Any technology that can address some or all of these issues and save companies even a fraction of those billions would be worth deploying.

Back then, I considered all the technologies out there to see if there were any that could do what RFID promised to do. The answer was no. Today, I continue to stay abreast of new technologies—particularly in the automatic identification sector—and I still don’t see anything other than RFID with the potential to solve supply-chain problems.

True, RFID is a relatively new technology—ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) supply-chain systems are less than five years old—that has had limitations, and it has suffered from some poor implementations done by companies learning at their clients’ expense. But here’s where my faith in the capitalist system comes in: I believe companies will invest in RFID systems that could save them billions, and smart people who recognize that there’s money to be made in the RFID industry will apply their funding, skills and experience to inventing RFID systems that work more effectively.

My faith has been rewarded over the years. Hardware vendors are developing products based on the second-generation Electronic Product Code (EPC) air-interface protocol that deliver a huge leap in performance over the first generation. Software vendors are designing new applications that enable companies to use RFID to track assets, analyze RFID data and turn tag reads into actionable information that improves business. And end users in a wide range of industries are deploying RFID systems in many applications that improve the way they do business.

The cycle of making and saving money will continue to feed innovation and inspire more people—even those outside the RFID industry—to bring their money and know-how to the task of making better RFID systems. It’s already happening. New reader technologies promise to lower the cost of installation and add new capabilities once thought impossible to achieve. You’ll see all the innovative RFID technologies on display in the exhibit hall at RFID Journal LIVE! 2008, to be held April 16-18 in Las Vegas—and end users will discuss how and where they are using these maturing RFID systems to deliver value to their businesses.

I’m glad I didn’t get discouraged six years ago by the skeptics who were wrong about RFID. There are still skeptics out there who are so focused on where RFID can’t deliver value for suppliers to Wal-Mart, Metro and the U.S. Department of Defense that they don’t see where it can today. As RFID Journal continues to educate people on the strengths and limitations of RFID technology, perhaps those skeptics, too, will someday learn to put their faith in the system.

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 or click here.