RAIN Alliance Workgroup Launches Tag Numbering Standard

Published: August 31, 2023

With a customer identification numbering service and family identifier service, the new standard will help address tag clutter, the workgroup says.

As billions of RFID tags are being applied to products yearly to track inventory and gain supply chain visibility, a problem has been building around tag “clutter.” This is the term related to unintentionally reading stray or unrelated tags within the vicinity of a reader. The result is numerous unwanted tag reads which simply bogs down RFID systems with excess, unrelated data.

Global standards organization GS1 provides a global tag encoding format, or Tag Data Standard, that includes an electronic product code (EPC). Not all tag providers employ the standard. In some cases, other standards, such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for baggage tracking, are employed or no standard is used at all.

The RAIN Alliance’s Application Identity (APP ID) workgroup has completed a set of projects to combat this problem, with its own standardization recommendations that are aimed at helping manufacturers ensure their tags are uniquely encoded based on standardized numbering systems, such as RAIN Alliance’s ISO standard.

According to the APP ID workgroup, 30 to 70 percent of RFID tags in use today are not leveraging a standards-based numbering system, which have pre-defined fields for filtering. RAIN Alliance’s ISO numbering system is intended to be a standardized way to encode tags based on the company that registered with RAIN Alliance when GS1 or other standards are not being used. In fact, the APP ID workgroup has created what it calls a toolkit for standardizing tags that include a customer identification number (CIN) and application family identifier (AFI) service, a global namespace service, and an encoding best practices document.

To date, 22 RAIN Alliance members – service bureaus, label companies, and solution providers – have committed to promoting standardized numbering systems by, for example, following the APP ID recommendations or to educate themselves and their partners on using them.

Standardized numbering systems can help identify the origins of a product and therefore whether it belongs among a specific set of tag reads, says Megan Brewster, RAIN Alliance APP ID Workgroup Chair and Impinj’s Advanced Technology VP. The APP ID workgroup formed in October 2020 with the goal of finding a standardized way for companies to uniquely identify their tags as opposed to someone else’s.

The mission was to guide and advance correct and standardized encoding and reporting of tag data, says Brewster. She points out that more than 28.94 billion RAIN tag chips were sold in 2021, and some products can have multiple tags within their individual parts.

One common example of tag clutter disrupting an RFID system can be found at a marathon in which RFID tagged bibs are used to identify athletes as they cross the start and finish lines. Unrelated tags in runners’ clothing and shoes provide the clutter which could then be exacerbated if a food truck parked near the finish line has tagged products onboard.

Another example is a postal or delivery service that is tracking the packages that flow through their facility or are delivered from their trucks. If the contents of a package include RFID tags that use a numbering system similar to that of the postal service, tag clutter could result.

Standardized Customer Identification Number

One of the key projects for the workgroup was developing an ISO-certified CIN service to identify tags when the GS1 system is not in use. The CIN serves as a unique identifier on the front of the tag ID that links to a specific company or group of companies. A single company or group of companies can have more than one CIN. Users can apply for a CIN on the RAIN Alliance website.

Another project the workgroup focused on was setting up an AFI service. The use of a RAIN AFI indicates that the tag encoding is for a closed system application using a proprietary or vendor-defined data format. It includes the CIN assigned by the RAIN Alliance to identify the owner of the tag data.

The workgroup also envisioned a Global Namespace Service to act as a web resolver that connects tag users with data; however, this solution has been put on hold while the program builds critical mass. The solution would focus on ensuring that users of the RAIN ISO standard can have a source to access and share information to make sense of the data. It is still in prototype form and will be built at a later date. The workgroup’s “resolver” consisted of a prototype website that authorized users can access, enter a tag ID, and view results related to the tagged object, such as its origin.

As part of the resolver development effort, the workgroup also hosted a prize challenge to look at concepts for how ID data management could be standardized and made available in the future.

Lastly, the workgroup created an “encoding best practices” document, which outlines necessary details that an organization needs to understand about encoding tags.

Commitment from RAIN Membership

The workgroup has asked RAIN Alliance members and partners to commit to meeting the standard requirements or educating themselves and their partners about it. The goal, says Brewster, is to focus the attention of the industry on using standardized numbering systems.

Megan Brewster, RAIN Alliance APP ID Workgroup Chair and Impinj’s Advanced Technology Vice President

The fact that 22 members agreed to the workgroup’s commitment request was a sign of early success, Brewster says. “That’s personally what I found most exciting is that it generated very strong momentum in the industry and focus on solving this really important problem.”

Going forward, she says, “I think we will have a growing awareness and adoption of standardized numbering systems across RAIN practitioners and solution providers.”

When it comes to encoding best practices, the workgroup is also providing a decision tree. RAIN Alliance’s Application Identity Work group, in collaboration with GS1, established the decision tree to help new users pick the numbering system that’s right for them.

The decision tree starts with a GS1 numbering system, Brewster explains, if such a numbering system is applicable to the user’s use case. If the GS1 standard is not applicable, users turn to existing ISO numbering systems provided by other standards groups such as IATA’s standard for baggage management. If none of these options are applicable to the use case, then the users would turn to the RAIN ISO numbering system. The decision tree was first published about a year ago.

The APP ID workgroup began its mission in October 2020. While some workgroups have an ongoing mandate, the APP ID Workgroup was specifically set up as a tiger team to create resources to solve the tag clutter problem, Brewster says.

Key Takeaways:

  • RAIN standard offers a numbering system aimed at preventing tag clutter when RAIN UHF RFID tags are read.
  • 22 RAIN Alliance members have committed to either follow the recommendations or educate themselves and their partners on using them.