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Not All RFID Tags Are Alike

Even tags of the same make and model vary significantly in their performance, as this excerpt from the RFID Alliance Lab's report, UHF EPC Tag Performance Evaluation, reveals.
By Daniel Deavours
Aug 01, 2005—The performance of radio frequency identification tags matters a lot. Whether you're trying to meet the tagging requirement imposed by a retail customer or considering RFID for improving your internal operations, the ability to read tags consistently is the foundation of any RFID-enabled system. You also want predictable tag performance. Otherwise, you might have to boost the power output of the interrogator to read poorly performing tags, which means you could wind up reading a better-performing tag on the neighboring conveyor.

For our second report, "UHF EPC Tag Performance Evaluation," we examined a number of aspects of tag performance, including yield (what fraction of tags that you buy will actually work) and variance (the difference in the performance among tags of the same model). We measured how quickly tags could be read, both in isolation and when other tags were present, and extensively recounted the results. These tests were thorough, scientific and repeatable. They should take much of the hype out of advertisements, and give end users sound information on which to base tag purchase decisions.

Test Results: Class 0 and 0+ Tags
We tested nine commercially available RFID tags based on EPCglobal's Class 0, 0+ and Class 1 specifications: Alien Squiggle, I2, and M; Avery Dennison DS1 and Triflex; Symbol I2010, X2040, and I1030; and Rafsec 457.

Most of these models were the same ones we tested for our first report. But due to interest in RFID for pharmaceutical applications, we replaced the Rafsec 458 and Avery Strip, which were discontinued, with the Symbol I1030, which is small enough to fit on a pharmaceutical bottle. Alien, Avery Dennison and Rafsec have similar item-level or pharmaceutical tags, but they were either not released or not available in sufficient quantities to be included in this report.

For our first report, we used scientific, repeatable tests to measure the differences in performance among tags from different manufacturers. For the second report, we set out to quantify the variations in performance among tags of the same manufacturer and model. Understanding the variations in performance is critical because companies must design their RFID systems to read the worst-performing tags, not the best. Otherwise they will achieve very low read rates, which will make it difficult, if not impossible, to get much business value from their RFID systems.

The RFID Alliance Lab performed nearly 1 million read attempts on more than 1,000 tags of the nine different models. We tracked how many tags were dead (unreadable) and how many were quiet (readable but only at very short distances). The results of these tests are explained in this article. The full report, which is available for purchase on the RFID Journal Web site, details the performance of a typical tag for each model and provides the percentage of tags read at various distances.

The full report also examines the read rates of tags when they are alone in the read field and when there are other tags in the read field (the results expose some of the hype from tag vendors regarding read rates). And it explains how the "forward channel" and "reverse channel" impact performance (these terms are defined in the report) and provides the results of some preliminary tests on the write performance of different tags.
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