Feb 16, 2003Feb. 17, 2003 - When I first started out in journalism many years ago (back in the days when -- gasp! -- we wrote stories on typewriters), I had the privilege of working with a brilliant journalist from India named T.K. Seshadri. Sesh, as everyone called him, was in his 70s and nearing the end of his career (he passed away three years ago). He once told me: "You know you are doing your job well when everyone is mad at you." If that's true, then I'm pleased to report I have reached the pinnacle of my career.
When I launched RFID Journal, I angered some vendors selling proprietary systems with my constant harping on the need for open standards. Now, I have some members of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) breathing fire over an article we published recently (see ISO Moves on RFID Standards).
Apparently, some people interpreted the article as suggesting that RFID Journal believes that the ISO standards are irrelevant. The point of the story, in fact, was that some vendors and end users who support ISO's work are concerned that the merits of the ISO standards could be overlooked in all the attention currently being given to the Auto-ID Center's Electronic Product Code. (That possibility was described as "the bad news" in the first paragraph of the article.)
It's not hard to understand the concern here. You only have to read what's being written about RFID these days. Take three recent stories: "RFID Rising" (Line56), "RFID Is about to Explode" (InfoWorld) and "RFID Is Hot!" (PackWorld). None of these stories mentions ISO standards. All talk about either the EPC or the Auto-ID Center. If potential technology buyers hear only that companies are placing big orders for EPC-compliant tags, are they going to look into purchasing products based on the ISO standard?
I hear some people say that the ISO standards are irrelevant, that the compromises needed to get everyone to agree on a standard leads to a less-than-ideal technical solution. In our totally unscientific online poll, readers were largely divided. Of the 104 people who voted, 48 percent said ISO standards are not irrelevant, 40 percent said they were and the rest weren't sure. I also hear other people who are totally dismissive of the EPC, because it is not an official standard. (You can vote on that one this week.)
I'm going to give my opinion, which gives me the opportunity to anger Auto-ID Center supporters (hey, just doing my job). ISO standards are not irrelevant. Even if it's true that an ISO technical solution is less than ideal, ISO is an international organization, and its blessing carries weight. (For the record, a company developing both ISO 18000-6 and EPC-complaint readers says the performance is similar.) Any application that involves international governments or conformance with government regulations will likely require the ISO imprimatur.
I also believe that those who dismiss the EPC are wrong. Clearly, a large chunk of the market wants a low-cost tracking solution and is willing to forego the blessing of standards bodies to get it. Are companies really wrong to do so?
In my view, end users benefit from having choices. The world's a big place, and there are many, many applications for RFID technology. Some will require simple, low-cost tags. Some will require more expensive and sophisticated tags. Some will absolutely require equipment that has ISO's blessing, and some will do just fine with proprietary technology. In our feature this week, Understanding RFID Standards, we sort out some of these issues for subscribers.
RFID Journal's position is now and always has been that open standards are important for many RFID applications. If we didn't believe that, we wouldn't have done a feature on standards this week, because, frankly, it's not the kind of sexy topic that pulls in a lot of new subscribers. But I've always said that the Journal's mission is to provide the information that companies need to make smart decisions about RFID.
I understand that creating standards takes time, but I share the concerns of those who fear that if ISO gets bogged down in procedural delays or political infighting, technology buyers will simply look elsewhere. The same holds true for the Auto-ID Center. In fact, that was the point of my last Opinion of 2002 (see Looking Ahead To 2003).
Of course, I realize my opinion means nothing. In the end, the markets will decide. Companies will eventually figure out what's available, what they need and buy it. Our aim is not simply to get a lot of people angry. That would be too easy. Our aim is to help end users do the figuring out part, which is hard. That is why I have invited several people who work on standards to publish their views in this space. That invitation remains open.
Mark Roberti is the Editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, send e-mail to