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What You Need to Know About Mobile RFID Readers

When paired with smartphones or tablets, these lightweight, low-cost devices can be used for a variety of business applications.
By Bob Violino
Dec 01, 2014

One of the biggest trends in the business community today is the huge growth of mobile devices in the workplace. Many organizations provide employees who work outside the office or away from their desks with smartphones or tablets. In addition, a growing number of companies have launched "bring-your-own-device" programs, which allow employees to use their consumer smartphones or tablets to communicate and collaborate with customers and colleagues and access corporate networks and data.

Nedap Retail's !D Hand reader is a Bluetooth-linked device designed for the retail industry. (Photo: Nedap Retail)

The mobility trend is fueling the growth of radio frequency identification readers that plug into smartphones and tablets. There are two main types of these products on the market: small, lightweight devices that attach to smartphones and tablets and turn them into RFID readers, and light, low-cost RFID readers that become full-fledged readers when partnered with smart devices. They all support the passive ultrahigh-frequency EPC Gen 2 protocol, to meet the volume of tags being deployed in the field, says Michael Liard, an independent analyst who focuses on RFID technology. The readers can be used for a variety of business applications, including access control, asset tracking, authentication and verification, food safety and traceability, inventory management, logistics and transportation.

"This technology has been in development for quite some time, and we've now seen the creation of a market opportunity with the continued penetration of consumer-grade devices" in the workplace, Liard says. "We're seeing more employees, whether it's [production] line workers or shop-floor managers or retail associates, using these mobile devices as part of traditional auto-ID capture solutions."

A key factor in the rising demand for RFID reader products for mobile devices is that many workers are already comfortable with the form factors and functionality of their consumer phones or tablets. "These are not typical handheld readers or bar-code scanners; these are devices employees use in their everyday lives," Liard says. "So there is a measure of comfortability and ease of use."

Also bolstering demand is the fact that it can be cheaper for companies to buy mobile RFID readers for consumer devices than to purchase conventional handheld RFID readers. "The total cost of ownership is lower with these types of devices," Liard says. "And if people bring their own devices into these environments, that also enables cost savings."

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