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The End of HF for Items?

Wal-Mart has come out in favor of using UHF RFID tags instead of HF to track unique items, but it's not clear whether other end users will go along.
By Andrew Price
Jun 01, 2006—In an April 13 press release, Wal-Mart announced that Rollin Ford, the company's new executive vice president and CIO, was committed to the company's RFID efforts. The press release also announced a specific date, June 30, after which Wal-Mart will no longer accept pallets and cases with Electronic Product Code Generation 1 tags.

Buried in the press release was this quote from Ford: "Many thought UHF tags could not be read around water or metal and that only HF tags could meet these tests. However, our team and our technology partners proved that the new UHF Gen 2 tags could, in fact, be read in water and on metal. That's nothing short of a breakthrough."


The relative business and price benefits of HF tags (top) versus UHF tags (bottom) will be debated in the months ahead.

It was the second time Wal-Mart signaled its opposition to the use of high-frequency RFID tags on individual items, because it's already using ultrahigh-frequency for pallets and cases. In an RFID Journal webinar, Richard Ulrich, solutions architect on Wal-Mart's RFID strategy team, said that using a single frequency for items, cases and pallets lowers the total cost of RFID interrogators.

Using all UHF interrogators has two primary benefits. A company can negotiate a lower price if it purchases 5,000 UHF interrogators, rather than 2,500 UHF and 2,500 HF interrogators. And maintenance is less costly if you need to purchase and train people to install or repair parts on only one type of interrogator.

Companies that sell UHF tags and interrogators claim that HF tags will never be manufactured as inexpensively as UHF tags. But proponents of HF tags say they've been proved to work well for tracking unique items, and they are more effective around water, which absorbs UHF signals, and metal, which reflects them.

Ford's quote refers to UHF tags that do work well around water and metal. Companies such as Impinj have been developing UHF tags that can communicate with interrogators the same way HF tags do.
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