It’s All RFID to Me

We need to get beyond thinking of RFID as simply passive UHF systems.
Published: June 23, 2009

After my recent opinion piece on Hewlett-Packard’s Memory Spot and RuBee (see Perfect Alternatives to RFID?), I got an e-mail from a friend who is a 20-year veteran of the auto-identification industry. He wrote:

“This is a well articulated opinion piece. The problem is, in spite of the laudable efforts of you and others to strike a balance, most folks seem to think about ‘RFID’ as being exclusively concerned with passive UHF RFID systems being deployed in the United States for inventory identification and management in the retail supply chain.”

It’s perhaps an inevitable result of the mandates for RFID tagging that have been issued. But RFID is a very broad term that covers a lot of different types of systems. And RFID is part of an even broader set of technologies known as auto-identification technologies.

When companies are looking to identify objects, locations or people, they should look at the full set of auto-ID technologies, including bar codes, and determine which is the least expensive system that will do the job. If RFID is the answer, then they have to look at which RFID system is appropriate for the task. It could be a simple, passive UHF tag with nothing on it but a 96-bit serial number. Or it could be an HP Memory Spot, which can hold up to 4 megabits of data.

As time goes by and RFID adoption is driven less by mandates and more by business needs, companies will likely gain a deeper understanding of the different types of RFID systems and how each can be used. Passive UHF EPC might be the most widely adopted type of RFID technology, but it’s clear to me that other systems will also flourish as people discover them and learn how they can be deployed in different applications to improve the way companies do business and serve their customers.

I’m bullish on active RFID and real-time locating systems. The return on investment in some of the case studies we’ve done has been extremely impressive. And further our, mesh networks are going to take data collection to an entirely new level. Mark my words, passive UHF in the supply chain will open the door to much broader applications of RFID.