Looking Ahead To 2003

By Mark Roberti

The buzz about RFID will fade quickly in 2003 if standards groups don't deliver, and companies don't move beyond the pilot stage.

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Dec. 9, 2002 – This year was an interesting one for the RFID industry. After years of getting little or no attention, RFID suddenly became a hot topic. The buzz reached an almost fevered pitch after RFID Journal broke the news last month that Gillette plans to buy half a billion tags from Alien Technology.

For the Auto-ID Center, 2002 can only be considered a huge success. The center passed several milestones in its quest to produce a system for tracking goods with low-cost RFID systems. The performance of the tags and readers produced by some of the sponsors has exceeded expectations. People that once scoffed at the notion of a 5-cent tag are now taking it seriously.

But the fact remains that the Auto-ID Center is a long, long way from achieving its stated aim of creating a de facto global standard for tracking goods with an electronic product code. So 2003 three is going to be a critical year for the center. It is going to have to begin delivering on its lofty promises.

Delivering doesn’t mean just publishing papers with final specifications. Delivering means showing that the technology developed offers businesses hard benefits. Gillette’s decision is encouraging, but many businesspeople will be watching to see if other sponsors make similar commitments over the next few months. If they do, momentum will build. If they don’t, we will likely see companies turning elsewhere for solutions to their problems.

One place they may look is the International Standards Organization. ISO is nearing completion of four RFID standards. And UCC and EAN have merged their GTAG initiative with ISO’s efforts. While tags based on these standards may not be as inexpensive as many companies would like, they at least bring the comfort of widespread acceptance.

Of course, standards initiatives have a way of dragging on and on or getting bogged down by infighting. So the ISO also has to make sure that it keeps the momentum going in 2003 and delivers final standards that companies can invest in with little risk of obsolesence.

So 2003 is going to be an important year for the RFID industry. If the Auto-ID Center and ISO deliver on their specifications, companies will have some very attractive options. And if some high profile projects, such as those launched under Britain’s Chipping of Goods initiative, show that there is a good business case for adopting RFID, then this technology may finally begin to achieve widespread adoption. But if the standards initiatives sputter and only a few companies move from pilot to implementation, the buzz of 2002 will fade very quickly.

Each year, pundits predict that this is the year RFID will finally take off. I don’t like to make predictions because they provide little real value. But if I were consulting for a retailer or manufacturer, my advice would be to watch the standards efforts and spend some time and money to learn about the potential benefits of RFID. Figure out how and where it might be used to cut costs or improve on-shelf availability. Figure out at what cost you could afford to implement a system. And be ready to pull the trigger when the time is right because that time may come a lot sooner than you think.

Mark Roberti is the Editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, send e-mail to