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How to Evaluate Competing Tag Technologies

Standard active-tag, WI-FI RFID and UWB RFID solution vendors are all vying for market share. The following five steps will help you select the best technology for your deployment.
By John Edwards
Jan 09, 2008—There's a turf war brewing between competing RFID technologies—although "air war" might be a more appropriate label for the budding conflict. The struggle involves three rival RFID approaches: standard active-tag, Wi-Fi and ultra-wideband (UWB). For enterprises planning to deploy new or expanded RFID systems, understanding the relative benefits and drawbacks of each technology should be a prerequisite before committing to a deployment.

1. Understand the technology. Organizations new to RFID often have little or no prior understanding of how the technology functions. Before you can intelligently compare different RFID technologies, you should first have at least a basic comprehension of each approach's structure and behavior. Here's a quick technical description of the three technologies:
  • Standard active-tag RFID solutions utilize battery-operated devices with a range of 300 feet or more. As a major, established RFID technology, this type of RFID is supported by a wide base of tag and interrogator makers, software vendors and other technology providers. The technology is also well understood by RFID system designers and consultants.

  • Wi-Fi RFID is based on the same 802.11 wireless technology used to link computers and other devices to each other and to the Internet. Wi-Fi vendors maintain that their technology is standards-based and non-proprietary—and since Wi-Fi networks are already deployed in many locations, Wi-Fi RFID beckons as a potentially less expensive and complex method for providing asset-tracking services.

  • UWB RFID is radically different from both standard active-tag and Wi-FI RFID, both of which operate on single bands within the radio frequency spectrum. UWB transmits a signal simultaneously over multiple bands, ranging between 3.1 and 10.6 GHz. UWB RFID also transmits signals for much briefer durations than standard active-tag and Wi-Fi RFID systems. Unlike the relatively steady data streams generated by the two competing technologies, UWB tags transmit data in rapid pulses, known as "wavelets." The technique burns less power than its rivals, and also allows RFID systems to be used in close proximity to other RF-generating technologies without creating—or causing the RFID deployment to suffer from—interference.
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