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Part 1: Understanding the EPC Gen 2 Protocol

The second-generation UHF Electronic Product Code standard offers significant improvements over Gen 1. In part 1 of this special report, we explain the new features in the air-interface protocol.
By Mark Roberti
Tags: Standards
Mar 28, 2005—For much of the past year, the buzz about Electronic Product Code technologies has focused on EPCglobal's second-generation UHF standard. Yet, for all the attention that has been paid to Gen 2, few end users have a good understanding of how this new air-interface protocol differs from the first-generation EPC standards (Class 0 and Class 1).

The biggest difference between Gen 1 and Gen 2 is that there is now a single global protocol. The first-generation EPC had two protocols, Class 0 and Class 1, and the same reader could not read both unless it was a multiprotocol reader. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) also approved two UHF air-interface protocols, 18000-6A and 18000-6B, as international standards, so there have been four UHF standards. EPCglobal has submitted the Gen 2 protocol to ISO for approval, which could happen in about a year, which would create one UHF protocol globally.

"That is a big deal," says Sue Hutchinson, director of product management at EPCglobal US in Lawrenceville, N.J., and the person who facilitated the development of the Gen 2 protocol. "Having more than one standard protocol creates confusion about what technology end users should buy. Vendors also have to figure out which protocol to base their products on. [Gen 2] brings us all together under one protocol, which will bring more vendors into the market and drive prices down for the end users."

Another important aspect of the UHF Gen 2 protocol is it was designed to optimize performance in different regulatory environments around the world. Europe’s communications authorities recently adopted reader regulations that are more relaxed, but the new rules are still quite stringent compared with those in the North America (see New ETSI RFID Rules Move Forward). Because the Gen 2 protocol uses the available radio spectrum more efficiently, it will provide better performance in Europe than any other UHF protocol. But Asia is still a wild card. "Asian regulations are changing, but we did our best to build in flexibility," Hutchinson says.

The protocol was also designed to be used for higher classes of EPC tags, so a reader could read an active tag with a sensor or a simple tag with just a unique ID. "Gen2 creates a good foundation for higher-function products, such as Class 2 and Class 3 tags and readers," says Tom Pounds, VP of corporate development at Alien Technology, a Morgan Hill, Calif.-based system provider. "The protocol anticipates those higher-function products and gives the industry a strong foundation to build on."

In part one of this two-part special report, we explain the most important new features in the Gen 2 air-interface protocol. Part 2, to be published next week, will explain some of the key improvements that were built upon the original EPC protocols.
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