Savi-DoD Contract Brings Cellular Connectivity, Mobility to Asset Management

By Claire Swedberg

The U.S. Department of Defense has signed its latest RFID-IV contract with Savi as the sole provider for updated technology, including hybrid RFID and cellular tags, lighter infrastructure kits and interrogation capability for RFID transponders when readers are unavailable.

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The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has signed a one-year extension to the fourth contract in a series—RFID-1, -II, -III and -IV—to improve wireless monitoring capabilities of assets in transit, storage and use around the world. The latest contract, with a $102 million ceiling during a five-year period, is intended to increase the flexibility and capabilities of its wireless technology systems to track assets in transit and in the field.

The system’s sole provider is supply chain solutions firm Savi Technology. The extension contract (#W52P1J-14-D-0014) extends through April 2019 and dictates that Savi provide its RFID-based hardware and middleware to the DoD and other agencies.

Rosemary Johnston

With the contract extension, says Rosemary Johnston, Savi’s senior VP of government operations, the technology company will provide hybrid cellular and RFID transponders, two-way transponders to both send and receive data, and lighter portable kits, all with the intention of enabling easier access to data in the remote locations where assets might go. The original RFID-IV contract, awarded in 2013, added satellite functionality, as well as GPS devices built into all interrogators, and increased memory size for the Savi transponders. The contract includes active RFID and satellite end-to-end solutions for the DoD, federal civilian agencies and NATO.

Since 2013, Savi has provided approximately 95 percent of the DoD’s RFID-related contracts, totaling $800 million (see U.S. DoD Reaffirms Commitment to Savi as Sole RFID-IV Provider). The contract extension, Johnston says, is designed to take advantage of improvements in technology, as well as enable better tracking in remote locations where it’s impractical to install permanent RFID technology infrastructure. As part of the contract, Savi will also provide training and professional services.

“The DoD uses Savi’s technology to power the world’s largest and most complex supply chain,” Johnston states. “Our transponders are placed on every container and pallet that is shipped into and out of the international area of responsibility,” while the company’s readers capture the tag data and transmits it to the DoD’s dedicated network, known as the RF-ITV system, which feeds into multiple other logistics command and control systems.

At many locations, military personnel currently set up a temporary reader portal where tagged items flow through a specific area, so that goods in transit—or that are being received or shipped—can be captured. The portals come in kits, with the intention of being set up at sites anywhere around the world, to capture data and then forward it to the RF-ITV network. Savi’s kits consist of a ruggedized laptop, a handheld RFID reader, a fixed reader (using active 433 MHz transmissions compliant with the ISO 18000-7 standard) and antennas, as well as an iridium modem with a satellite and cellular connection.

The DoD or some other agency then attaches Savi active RFID transponders to assets. As each tagged item approaches or passes through a specific gateway, within a distance of about 300 feet, the gateway reader wakes it up, after which is transmits its unique ID number, which is linked in the agency’s software to a particular asset. “Our portable deployment kits allow for rapid deployment of logistics in transit visibility capability,” Johnston explains, “by providing a complete system where infrastructure doesn’t exist.”

One shortcoming of this solution is that tags can only be captured when they come within range of a reader. However, the new version of Savi’s tags can provide cellular transmissions as well. Savi also makes low-cost cellular transmitters without RFID functionality, for scenarios when only cell-based data is required.

The addition of cellular functionality ensures that tags can be read, and thus assets located, even when they are not within range of an RFID reader, as long as there is a 2G, 3G or 4G cellular connection. Once the hybrid tag moves beyond an RFID reader, it can transmit location data at periodic, pre-set intervals—without requiring a wakeup signal—via cell networks in the area through which the tag is traveling.

The newer transponders not only offer cellular connectivity or a hybrid of cellular and active RFID, buy also come with backward compatibility. That means the tags will work with existing RFID hardware, Johnston says, allowing the DoD to maintain its current investment in hardware, even as it acquires new technology with greater capabilities.

Additionally, the transponders can be used as interrogators as well as transmitters, thereby requiring fewer reader and antenna installations at some locations. When one transponder emits its unique ID, that data can be captured by the next transponder, which can then forward that information to the next device in a daisy-chain fashion. For instance, Johnston says, a transponder in a truck could be used to capture data from other tags within that vehicle, and to then forward that data via a cellular connection or to another transponder.

Deployment kits will become lighter and less cumbersome as well, Johnston reports. The kits previously have weighed 62 pounds, she says, but “they are now under 35 pounds and can be moved by one person.” The contents of the kit, however, will be the same, using lighter-weight materials and leveraging smaller technologies, such as the electronics used in laptop readers.

The DoD now has three levels of capacity, depending on the nature of the item being tracked. For highly sensitive goods, such as ammunition or nuclear weapons, satellite technology tracks each item’s location and movement in real time, no matter where in the world it is located. For goods of high value, including fuel or meals (MREs), the RFID- and cellular-based data provides location information for goods everywhere there is a cellular or RFID network.

Lastly, Johnston says, for mops, brooms, toilet paper and other lower-value goods, RFID technology provides sufficient coverage for “last seen” portal-based data. In all cases, the location data is captured and managed by Savi Technology’s Visibility software, and is then forwarded to the agency’s own software, such as the DoD’s RFI ITV server, where the data is managed and dispersed to appropriate authorities.

The new Savi transponders and kits are undergoing Hazard of Electromagnetic Radiation to Ordnance (HERO) testing. Upon certification, they will be made available for purchase. Savi predicts that this will take place within four to six weeks.