Largest RFID File-Tracking System Goes Live in Qatar

By Claire Swedberg

The new system in place at Qatar Public Prosecution replaces an existing RFID solution to provide greater coverage with fewer readers, and to offer fast data capture, storage of data if a network goes down and real-time alerts in the event of unauthorized case file removals.

The Qatar Public Prosecution (QPP) office in Doha has launched what it bills as the largest RFID-enabled file-tracking deployment in the world. With 1,006 read points spread across a 46-story tower, the system enables the office to track the movements and locations of 70,000 files down to a particular corridor, office or stairwell. The ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID solution was provided by OGTech Technology Solutions, a Middle-east distributor and systems integrator, using RFID technology provided by Feig Electronics. Local integrator Qatar Computer Services installed the system.

The Qatar prosecutor's office and courthouses already use UHF RFID technology. In fact, a solution was installed in 2012 that enabled the tracking of every case file, either at prosecutors' offices or in the courthouses premises (see Qatar's Public Prosecution Office Cuts File Search Time by 60 Percent). However, says Khaled Mohamed, OGTech's regional manager, when the prosecutor's numerous offices consolidated to a single, much larger site, the agency began seeking a new RFID-based system that would be more cost-effective in its larger space, as well as provide greater read accuracy and security at the building's entrance and exit.

OGTech's Khaled Mohamed

OGTech, founded in 2007, offers identification and information technology systems using passive RFID. Its solutions are used throughout the Middle East, according to the company, for asset management, supply chains and access control, among other use cases. The firm began working with the QPP in 2017 to design a system that could solve several problems the agency faced as it expanded its space and its RFID requirements.

QPP's original system was installed within a 14-floor building, so the square footage of the new location would require considerably more RFID read points. This, the agency reports, would be a challenge with the existing infrastructure, which consisted of UHF RFID readers using linear antennas that required two antennas to be oriented so as to face into each read zone. Additionally, each reader had a four-port maximum. That meant each reader could provide only two read zones—and because the existing readers continuously interrogate tags within their vicinity, even if they are unmoving, the volume of read data caused heavy traffic on the network.

There were also shortcomings when it came to using RFID technology at the front doorways. QPP requires high security at its egresses, in order to ensure that no files are removed from the building without authorization. With the first RFID system, however, the alerts that would be prompted by a tag read were often slow—so slow, in fact, that the alert would not be sounded until the individual removing the file had already exited. OGTech worked with QPP to develop a solution that would resolve all of these challenges.

The Feig readers are designed to accommodate as many as 256 antennas, Mohamed says, though the deployment uses approximately 11 antennas per reader. The new readers' circular antennas enable a deployment to use just a single antenna for each read point. As a result, the team was able to install 1,006 read points with only 143 readers.

The system utilizes the existing UHF RFID labels attached to files. As more files are commissioned, however, the QPP office can print each new label (provided by Smartrac) on a Zebra Technologies printer. There are, on average, 300 to 500 new files created daily, covering everything from traffic violations to felonies across the country.

As a file moves around the facility, its location is updated as each reader antenna captures its tag ID number. A typical floor contains 26 offices, eight elevators and four sets of stairs. Four Feig readers accommodate each floor with 40 antennas and 40 read points. That means the OGTech middleware captures the files' locations as they enter the floor and are moved into an office. The system captures each specific office, elevator, stairwell or corridor that the files enter or leave, as well as how long they remain at that location.

The Feig readers reduce the amount of RFID-based data traffic, Mohamed reports, by being programmed to send a specific tag ID to the middleware only once, so that if a tag remains in a given area within range of a specific antenna, it will not be continuously interrogated. Additionally, he says, the Feig readers provide reliability even if the network temporarily goes down. The readers can store up to 1,700 data sets (read events) in the event that the facility's back-end system fails, and then forward that data once the system comes back online.

OGTech and QPP also designed a solution for faster alerting at the building's entrance and exit. Each tag comes with four digits dedicated to the tag's security status, in addition to the 20-digit RFID number. With the OGTech solution, Mohamed explains, those four digits are set at 0000 by default and, for the security solution, indicate that the file must not leave the building.

In some cases, officers need to access files and are permitted to remove them from the premises. To update the status of such files, QPP officers use a Feig desktop reader to change the four 0s to 1s, thereby indicating that the file mays leave, and that no alert is necessary.

When the tagged files are moved through the door of the building, the readers capture not only the 20-digit ID numbers but also the four-digit authorization codes. The reader detects any that are still in the 0s mode, and an alert is immediately sounded. This process ensures that the alert will sound more quickly than if the data had to be sent to back-end software to be interpreted. There are ten such security read portals at building exits, including at the emergency exits. "We did a lot of analysis work with all the departments," Mohamed explains, "to get the best match for their workflow."

The system is also capable of providing historical data that can help management understand the flow of files and legal cases throughout the facility. For instance, the system tracks how long a given file spends at each location, so that management can evaluate the average time files spend at specific areas and offices, and thereby identify potential bottlenecks.

For future phases of the deployment, the office plans to use the RFID system to track assets, such as laptop computers and other electronics. The technology will also be used with RFID-enabled staff badges to track the arrival, movements and departure of every individual working onsite. Finally, the solution will ultimately enable visitor badges to be assigned to those who are onsite temporarily. The courthouses will eventually migrate to the new solution as well, Mohamed says, though a specific timeline for future deployment has not yet been determined.