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Cisco Stays Focused on Network

As companies scale up RFID deployment, the router giant says they will require a network that can intelligently handle a lot of new data—and Cisco plans to meet that need.
By Ari Juels
Aug 28, 2005—By Bennett Voyles

"It's the network, stupid." That's essentially been the mantra Cisco Systems has recited since the mid-'90s, when business first discovered the Internet, and it's the mantra Cisco sales teams are reciting now, in this brave new world of RFID.

"The whole world in the past has been very focused on the interoperation of the reader and the tag. Very few people have been focused on what happens with the reader," says Mohsen Moazami, vice president of the Internet Business Solutions Group at Cisco Systems in San Jose, Calif.

Cisco is trying to change that, by getting companies with RFID pilot projects to focus less on the tags and readers, or interrogators, and more on how their growing RFID programs will be knit together once they are rolled out. In May, the company announced its new RFID-Ready Networks initiative, branding a selection of hardware and services it already provides for use in building data networks for RFID projects.

Of course, Cisco's spin that "the network's the thing in RFID" is a self-serving thesis, since the company sells the routers that make high-speed data networks run. No doubt, a Cisco flour company would tell bakers to focus on the dough, not the pie filling. Still, analysts say the Cisco mantra is likely to prove true once again in the context of RFID.

The small scale of many RFID pilot programs so far has made attention to network operations less of a concern than it probably will be in the long run, say supply chain experts. "Nobody has really scaled up yet on passive RFID, so you can make a pilot or an initial implementation work with chewing gum and chicken wire," says Steve Geary, a partner with Supply Chain Visions, a consulting firm headquartered in Bellevue, Wash.

With the new program, Cisco Systems is trying to encourage companies to move beyond the chicken wire stage. In seven to 10 years, Cisco warns in its sales literature, "the density of readers, the volume of data that is created and transmitted, and the potential uses of the information will be staggering." Rather than jury-rigging a system that will need to be ripped out later on, Cisco's RFID sales teams are advising supply chain executives to build something scalable now so it can be extended as data needs grow.
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