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10 Questions to Ask RFID Vendors

Before you begin an RFID pilot or rollout, there are some important questions you need to ask RFID tag and reader providers to guarantee the success of the project and future-proof your investment.
By Bob Violino
Mar 08, 2004—This year, many companies will launch their first RFID pilot or begin their first rollout of the technology. If your company is among them, you are likely starting to evaluate different suppliers of RFID tags and readers. The choices you make might not have a major effect on your
pilot, but they could have a profound impact on the long-term success of your RFID project and the return on investment you get from it.

Whether you purchase RFID tags and readers directly from the manufacturer or through a distributor or value-added reseller, there are many issues to consider, including the frequency, protocols and standards supported; the interoperability of the hardware with RFID systems from other vendors; the cost of upgrading and maintaining equipment; and the vendor's ability to customize some elements of the system according to your needs. RFID Journal has put together a list of 10 questions you should ask tag and reader suppliers before investing in an RFID system.

1. Which frequencies and standards do you support?
If you are deploying RFID to comply with requirements established by Wal-Mart or the Department of Defense, you already know that you need to use an RFID tag that operates in the UHF (868 to 956 MHz) spectrum, uses the Class 1 or Class 0 Electronic Product Code protocol and carries a 96-bit EPC. But if you are one of the many other users with vastly different needs, making sure you choose hardware that operates at the right frequency and supports the right standards is critical.

The cattle industry uses mainly low frequency (125 to 134 KHz) tags that conform to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards 11784 and 11785. Certain other applications, including access control, smart shelves and some manufacturing scenarios, could require high-frequency tags (13.56 MHz).

In general, most companies are looking at UHF systems for supply chain applications. UHF delivers read ranges of 15 to 20 feet, making it possible to read tags going through a dock door. Vendors that sell only one type of technology—say, a 13.56 MHz system—might tell you that their products will work for your application. That may well be true—there are no hard and fast rules about when to use one frequency or another—but you should ask the company to demonstrate their system in your environment and talk to vendors that sell systems that operate at other frequencies to make sure you are applying the right tag for the job.

RFID standards are far from settled at this point. ISO has proposed standard protocols for each frequency. EPC has emerged as a potential rival standard. It's important to know which standard your hardware vendor supports because if EPC technology takes off, as now appears will be the case, that will drive down the price of tags and readers.
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