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RFID Myths and Realities

There's a lot of confusion and misinformation about the cost of tags, the ability to take inventory at the push of a button and many other aspects of RFID. This article explodes ten of the most pervasive RFID myths.
By Bob Violino
May 11, 2003—May 12, 2003 - As with any emerging technology, there is a lot of confusion about what RFID can and can't do. Many articles in the press either simplify or exaggerate what's possible. While the technology truly has the potential to deliver dramatic benefits to companies in many industries, it's time for a reality check.

We've chosen the Top 10 Myths based on the large number of email messages submitted to RFID Journal and on questions that are put to vendors and systems integrators almost every day. The aim of this article is not discourage the use of RFID, but rather to debunk some of the nonsense and give companies a more realistic view of what it takes to deploy RFID the technology successfully.

Myth No. 1: RFID is a "talking" bar code.
RFID tags are like bar codes that broadcast a serial number, but using them in this way misses out on many of the potential benefits. Even the simplest RFID tag -- those that only contain a unique serial number -- can carry more data than most bar codes do today. Instead of just identifying the manufacturer and the stock-keeping unit (SKU), they can also identify unique items. That means you can tell which pallets arrived first, which contain products approaching their sell-by dates and so on.

Many tags can store much more than a serial number. Write-once read many (WORM) tags typically store a couple of kilobits of data. Tags on tools can store information about when the tool was purchased, which department it belongs to, where it's supposed to be stored and so on. And read-write tags can be used like a distributed database, where information is updated regularly.

Scottish Courage uses read-write tags to track when its beer kegs need to be washed and when they should be taken out of circulation for servicing. When the keg is serviced, the date is written to the tag and the maintenance people can retrieve it at any time (see TrenStar: RFID with Less Risk). And Marks & Spencer writes information about specific food shipments -- when the food was picked up, where it needs to be shipped to and so on -- on 3.5 million tagged containers.
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