RFID Bookshelf

By John Edwards

New books examine RFID certification, produce packaging, library applications and the market at large.

It's easy to forget just how greatly the user base for radio frequency identification technologies has widened over the past several years. RFID adopters now include manufacturers, retailers, shippers, warehouse operators, government agencies, veterinarians, theme park operators and scores of other enterprises. Then there are the growing number of applications, which seem limited in capabilities only by the imagination of RFID system designers. As a result, everything from shipping containers to retail products, pest traps, valuable artworks and even people are now being tagged.

Given RFID's ever-widening scope, it's not surprising that RFID book authors are turning their attention to new and more tightly focused topics. The days of books with titles such as Introduction to RFID and RFID Basics are now quickly receding into history. Most RFID books appearing over the past few months are designed to help readers gain specific types of knowledge, either for professional growth or to tackle a particular RFID project. That's a good sign, since it's proof of the technology's maturity and expansion into an almost endless number of business sectors.

Here's look at four recent books that, in their own ways, reflect the new state of both RFID and the RFID book market.

Mike Meyers' CompTIA RFID+ Certification Passport


By Mark Brown, Sam Patadia and Sanjiv Dua


McGraw Hill-Osborne, 2007


313 pages


$39.99




As the RFID industry matures and the technology plays an increasingly important role in a variety of critical tasks, a growing number of businesses are seeking technicians who are CompTIA-certified. The trade group's certification validates that professionals who work with RFID technology have the ability to install, maintain, repair and troubleshoot RFID software and hardware.

Obtaining certification is, by no means, easy. Applicants, usually with 6 months to 2 years of RFID technology experience, must pass a 90-minute, 81-question exam covering technologies, standards, rules, applications and several other topic areas. It's these individuals that the Mike Meyers' CompTIA RFID+ Certification Passport aims to serve.

While the book carries Meyers' name as "series editor" (he's the author of several other CompTIA study guides), the text was actually written by Mark Brown, Sam Patadia and Sanjiv Dua, past or current executives at RFID4U, a company located in Sunnyvale, Calif., that specializes in vendor-neutral RFID learning solutions.

Mike Meyers' CompTIA RFID+ Certification Passport covers the full spectrum of RFID-related topics that will appear on the exam. The book kicks off with RFID basics, including a thorough explanation of what radio signals are, how they behave and the ways in which they can be used by RFID devices. The next few chapters focus on tags, interrogators (readers) and peripherals. Then comes system design, product selection, system installation, and testing and troubleshooting coverage. Finally, the book wraps up with a look at RFID standards and regulations.

The book follows a travel guide theme—hence, the word "passport" in its title. That theme is carried forward through the inclusion of "Itineraries" (lists of exam objectives), "ETAs" (the time estimated to complete each lesson), "Travel Advisories" (additional information on tricky concepts) and "Checkpoints" (end-of-chapter questions, answers and explanations). There's also "Career Flight Path," a section that shows how additional CompTIA certifications can make an RFID technician even more employable.

Meyers describes the book's philosophy, in somewhat flowery terms, in the introduction. "You're about to begin a journey, my friend, a journey toward that magical place called certification," he writes. "You don't need a ticket, you don't need a suitcase—just snuggle up and read this passport—it's all you need to get there."

The various travel metaphors grow tiresome after a few chapters, yet the book delivers on its promise to get readers "on the fast track to becoming CompTIA certified." Information is presented in a logical manner, and the text is clear and readable. A detailed table of contents and index help readers zero in on specific topics, and an accompanying CD provides a practice test that will help users judge their readiness for the actual exam.

While Mike Meyers' CompTIA RFID+ Certification Passport won't turn anyone into an instant RFID expert, it should provide most readers with the knowledge necessary to pass the exam and obtain a job as an RFID technician. Given the industry's current job shortage, which is hampering system deployment for many enterprises, that's certainly a good thing.

Intelligent and Active Packaging for Fruits and Vegetables


Edited by Charles W. Wilson


CRC Press, 2007


336 pages


$180




Recent outbreaks of E. coli bacteria in spinach and other produce have focused increased attention on technologies that can protect consumers from receiving tainted products. Intelligent and Active Packaging for Fruits and Vegetables taps the expertise of more than two-dozen scientists and researchers to describe various technologies and applications that can potentially ensure fresh, safe and nutritious produce.

Intelligent and Active Packaging for Fruits and Vegetables covers multiple packaging technologies, of which RFID and sensors are only two. Other solutions, many of which can be used in conjunction with RFID and sensors, range from insect-repellent plastics to high vapor-permeable films.

Two chapters focus directly on RFID. Chapter 11, "RFID Temperature Monitoring; Trends Opportunities and Challenges," examines the technology's current status in fresh food packaging and logistics. Chapter 12, "Selecting Authentication and Tracking Technologies for Packaging," explores the various security solution choices and deployment options open to food packagers and transporters.

In Chapter 11, Bill Roberts examines how application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) devices may help overcome the economic threshold currently posed by RFID. ASIC technology, based on custom-designed silicon chips, is viewed by some observers as a simpler and more economical RFID alternative. "Without ASIC chip designs...pallet-level monitoring of goods such as produce might not become economically feasible," writes Roberts, who is a research fellow at Cryovac/Sealed Air, a manufacturer of materials and systems for fresh food packaging, located in Elmwood Park, N.J.

Roberts also takes a close look at existing produce monitoring technologies, such as time-temperature indicators (TTIs), strip chart recorders and data loggers, and compares them against RFID solutions on the basis of cost and functionality. He concludes that RFID is rapidly gaining ground on the older solutions. "The potential for RFID-enabled temperature-monitoring tags across the produce supply chain is significant, and new tag/reader technologies are rapidly developing in this direction," Roberts writes. "While several challenges confront a transition to temperature-monitoring RFID tags and the associated applications, the expectation is that stepwise adoption will occur, with real value delivered to innovative end users at each step of the way."

Chapter 12 is written by David Phillips, a consultant with Axess Technologies, a Boston-based strategic and technical consulting firm that focuses on supply-chain protection. His material covers the different solutions, including RFID, that enterprises can use to track and protect food shipments. Phillips notes that the pressure to implement authentication and tracking technologies is growing rapidly. "There is an increasing need to maintain complete visibility throughout the manufacturing process and supply chain until the food product reaches the consumer," he writes. "All of this must be achieved without alarming the consumer or undermining the integrity of the food companies or their products."

But Phillips believes work still needs to be done to make RFID solutions more affordable in the face of growing competition from other technologies. "The high cost of RFID tags has resulted in the development of a number of lower-cost chipless electronic tags," he writes. "Examples of chipless tags include magnetic and electromagnetic materials in the form of fibers, threads or patches that may be embedded directly into packaging or closures during manufacture. Most of these tags are designed to be read at short distances (less than 1mm), although some will operate up to 1m from the reader."

Most of the chapters in Intelligent and Active Packaging for Fruits and Vegetables were first published as academic and professional research papers. The book, therefore, is packed with mathematical formulas and high-end theoretical discussions that will leave non-scientists—including most business managers—bleary-eyed and bewildered. The target audience is commercial logistics and packaging system developers, who can apply the book's concepts and strategies to real-world situations. For these individuals, Intelligent and Active Packaging for Fruits and Vegetables can provide abundant food for thought.

The Complete RFID Handbook: A Manual and DVD for Assessing, Implementing and Managing Radio Frequency Identification Technologies in Libraries


By Diane Marie Ward


Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2007


261 pages


$75




RFID is a perfect fit for libraries. After all, books are no different from any other product that needs to be tracked and organized, and a librarian, like a warehouse operator supervising commercial merchandise, needs to know where specific books are located and which titles are arriving and leaving. But a librarian must also be concerned with privacy—specifically, the possibility that information about patrons and their reading interests could fall into the wrong hands. The Complete RFID Handbook: A Manual and DVD for Assessing, Implementing and Managing Radio Frequency Identification Technologies in Libraries addresses both the technical and social issues surrounding RFID use in libraries.

Written by Diane Marie Ward, principal cataloger of the poetry and rare books collection at the State University of New York at Buffalo, The Complete RFID Handbook is targeted at librarians and library directors with little or no knowledge of RFID and its implications, but who are anxious to take advantage of its benefits. "Radio frequency identification is proving itself to be a viable technology to conduct routine library tasks, and to free up valuable staff time," Ward writes. "It allows librarians to move toward more value-added patron-centric interaction."

Ward believes RFID will help libraries in several ways, including better management of print and audiovisual materials, decreased repetitive injuries among staff and easier stack inventories. She also feels the technology will empower patrons, maximize staff productivity, replace magnetic theft detection systems and, ultimately, reduce costs. "The Complete RFID Handbook seeks to demonstrate, through research, interviews and scientific data, the many ways in which libraries can benefit from this technology," she writes.

Chapters one through four explain RFID basics, including systems, standards, applications and the technology's business case. Chapters five through eight are targeted at library adoption committees, providing information on RFID design and deployment challenges, vendor selection and maintenance issues. The book's final two chapters cover staff and patron privacy concerns, and offer a strategy for educating the general public about RFID and its benefits. The book wraps up with an appendix that includes sections on RFID acronyms, Library of Congress subject headings for RFID, a summary of library and vendor surveys conducted by the author and a list of RFID information and technology sources.

The Complete RFID Handbook is written for non-technical readers, and does a generally commendable job of explaining basic RFID concepts and how libraries could use the technology. Ward offers solid and practical advice on the various aspects of RFID system design, procurement and deployment, as well as selling the technology's case to library directors and the general public. An accompanying DVD demonstrates how an RFID self-check system works, and shows how tags can be mounted on books and audiovisual materials. The disc also illustrates how RFID can help librarians search for and locate missing materials.

To buttress her case for deploying RFID in libraries, Ward includes numerous interviews with librarians who have deployed and are now using the technology. To help readers better understand the design and development challenges they will face, she presents several brief case studies of libraries that have already met and overcome various types of RFID roadblocks.

Ward believes librarians must prepare themselves for a future that includes tags and readers. "The Complete RFID Handbook is the first book designed to help librarians decide whether or not to adopt this technology," she writes. "I have tried to explore the real benefits of this emerging technology, as well as strongly caution people about its limitations."

Plunkett's Wireless,Wi-Fi, RFID & Cellular Industry Almanac 2008


By Jack W. Plunkett


Plunkett Research, 2007


447 pages


$300




Plunkett's Wireless,Wi-Fi, RFID & Cellular Industry Almanac 2008 has an ambitious stated goal—namely, coverage of the entire wireless industry. The volume (including a CD that duplicates its information in PDF format) provides a snapshot of the wireless industry as it currently exists, with forecasts of what it may evolve into over the next few years.

The almanac includes in-depth analytical and statistical information about RFID and other key wireless communications technologies. This 469-page volume isn't comprehensive, but it does manage to cram an impressive amount of insight into its four main sections. The book's first section, "Major Trends in the Wireless, Wi-Fi, RFID & Cellular Industry," presents an overview of the major technologies currently generating rapid changes in the wireless industry. This section includes several articles focused on RFID issues, such as "RFID Drives Inventory Management Evolution," "Backlash Against RFID," "Self Check-In Kiosks, RFID and Other New Technologies Save Labor Costs for Airlines and Hotels" and "Wireless Sensor Networks Ready to Spread." All of the articles are insightful, carefully researched and clearly written.

The book's next section, "Wireless, Wi-Fi, RFID & Cellular Industry Statistics," presents in-depth statistical data on the wireless industry's current state, as well as future projections. Unfortunately, despite its title, the section contains no meaningful RFID statistical data. But useful RFID information can be found in the almanac's following section, "Important Wireless, Wi-Fi, RFID & Cellular Industry Contacts." It provides contacts for key trade groups, government agencies research firms and standards bodies, including leading RFID- and logistics-focused organizations. Each listing includes the organization's name, phone and fax numbers, and physical, e-mail and Web site addresses, as well as a capsule description. Finding this information on your own would require a great deal of Google work.

The book's final section, "The Wireless 350," is perhaps its best component. Detailed information is supplied on the top 350 wireless industry players (as selected by Plunkett Research), including leading RFID vendors. Each listing supplies the company's contact information; business focus; brands, divisions and affiliates; executive leadership; and financials—as well as a rundown on its activities and growth plans. This is valuable information that can be put to use by current and prospective RFID adopters, investors, sales reps, researchers and even job hunters.

While Plunkett's Wireless, Wi-Fi, RFID & Cellular Industry Almanac has a lot going for it, the book has a drawback: ink and paper. Unlike a continuously updated online reference, a printed guide starts going out of date the moment it rolls off the printing press. This is especially true for a publication that surveys a tech industry, as Plunkett's does. Since tech companies rapidly appear, disappear, transform and merge, information in a printed guide can lose a significant amount of meaning in just a few weeks. Fortunately, a year's access to continuously updated Plunkett data is available online—for an additional $100.

Still, even in its lower-priced printed form, Plunkett's provides plenty of value. And unlike an online reference, readers can scan through the hardcopy almanac and glean useful information from it—anytime, anywhere. In fact, that's the best thing about any book: 24x7 information access, with no back-up power source required.