What Are RFID’s Main Challenges?

Published: September 21, 2009

What do you see as the greatest challenges in deploying RFID?

—Name withheld


I will list what I see as the biggest challenges, in no particular order, but it might be more helpful if end users would chime in with the challenges they faced in deploying a system.

First, choosing the right technology can be a problem. There are many types of RFID technologies, from “chipless” systems that use RF-resonant fibers or inks to identify an object, all the way up to battery-powered units that have on-board sensors and computing power. Identifying the major applications you want to use the system for, and mapping those to the technology that will cover most or all of them, is often confusing for people.

Finding a good systems integrator can also be a challenge. There aren’t that many out there with hands-on knowledge. Many have implemented one type of technology only, such as passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF), and they will try to sell you that system even if it isn’t right for your needs. Some have no experience and are more than happy to learn at your expense.

The physics of passive RFID can be a challenge as well. Systems are improving every day, but water and metal can still be issues. The pros can work around them, but most end users don’t have RF experts on staff.

Data integration can potentially be a challenge. Bar codes are usually scanned once and the data is captured, but with RFID, the tag can be read many times. Companies such as Wal-Mart and American Apparel use the serialized data as they need it, then transmit the information as if it were bar-code data to their existing back-end system. This is not the ideal solution, but it work well and is inexpensive.

Overcoming your own preconceived notions can be difficult. Many people can’t get past the fact that a bar code costs less than a penny and a passive RFID transponder costs ten cents or more. They are so fixated on the cost of the data carrier that they can’t see that it takes the guy making $10 an hour 20 times longer to collect the information with bar codes. Many people also can’t get past the fact that passive tags can’t be read 100 percent of the time. They are so blinded by that fact that they don’t realize the folks scanning bar codes are missing far more than RFID misses.

And finally, getting corporate buy-in is a challenge. Most projects today are one-off applications to track assets. These are approved at a low level, and the budgets are usually fairly small. The one company that is really implementing RFID right is Airbus, which is taking an enterprise-wide approach and looking at the technology as an infrastructure that can be used for many applications. In the long run, this approach delivers the greatest ROI, because there is minimal cost with adding new applications onto the existing infrastructure.

Those are my thoughts. I’d love to hear what end users have to say their biggest challenges have been.

—Mark Roberti, Editor, RFID Journal