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Five Predictions for '08

The RFID industry will see more consolidation than innovation, and plenty of progress in unexpected places, but new exuberance will take a while.
By Kevin Ashton
Feb 14, 2008—By Kevin Ashton

How did I do in last year's round of crystal ball gazing? I'd give myself a four out of five. I predicted that standards-based competition would drive innovation across the system; we would see the first high-performance UHF readers that fit on a single silicon chip; closed-loop applications would start to use EPC technology; RFID security would become a hot topic; and there would be more buzz about item-level tagging on consumable items.

I got security wrong. Low-cost RFID systems have some big security holes, but so far these have escaped notice. The rest were broadly correct. For example, the large number of suppliers making Gen 2 RFID tags led Intel to launch its R1000 UHF reader-on-a-chip. RFID vendors have impressive item-level plans and demos, and many users are engaged in trials. So, with the aim of going five for five this time, what does 2008 hold?

1. More gothic melancholy.
The RFID community has been in a funk since the exuberant expectation that 2004 was going to be "the year of RFID" was not met. The frown persists today, like a cartoon cloud of negativity. This melancholy is cause, not effect. There is no innovation without hope. It's harder to sell when you're sad. People in business have no place acting like goth teenagers who can't think of anything good to do. A lot of great things have happened and will continue to happen. Sooner or later, everyone will figure that out. But it may take more than a year.

2. Competition will lead to consolidation.
While competition will continue to drive innovation, a more important trend will be consolidation. Some companies innovated, some didn't. Only the innovators will survive. Their weaker competitors will either be acquired or just fade away.

3. Green is the new supply chain.
Some say "green is the new black," meaning that caring about climate change and the environment is very much in vogue. In RFID, this translates into two things: First, any RFID application that can help with increasing sustainability, reducing carbon footprints or decreasing consumption will capture a lot of attention, just as the idea of supply-chain RFID did a few years ago. Second, the place where that application finds its footing may well be the global supply chain. Business users need all the help they can get reducing waste and energy consumption as they move goods from production to purchase and consumption.

4. Privacy, schmivacy.
Some of the biggest exaggerations in RFID have come from privacy scaremongers. There are real issues to think about when it comes to RFID and privacy, but many privacy claims have ranged from the unlikely to the sensational. This happens when a technology is new and unfamiliar: Who knows what to believe? But now that new passports in many parts of the world come with RFID tags built in, soon everyone really will have an RFID tag in their pocket. And the sky will not fall as a result. This familiarity will help take the edge off privacy worries.

5. I'll go five for five..
All my predictions will be perfect this year, especially this one. Really.

Kevin Ashton was cofounder and executive director of the Auto-ID Center.
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