Signs of Accelerating Adoption

By Mark Roberti

Beyond public announcements of RFID deployments, there are plenty of trends that indicate the pace of adoption is quickening.

For the past two weeks, I have been writing about why I believe the adoption of radio frequency identification is picking up and what the faster pace of adoption could mean for both end users and solution providers (see How RFID Adoption Will Accelerate and Missing the RFID Adoption Wave). I know many people are skeptical, and with good reason. Prognosticators have been forecasting the rapid adoption of RFID for years, and yet it hasn't happened. So let me share some of what I can see that most others can't.

The most obvious trend in the RFID market is in retail, with major store chains announcing that they are adopting the technology to track individual items. Beyond the public announcements, I see more retailers signing up for RFID Journal's newsletters. I would describe it as a steady stream, not a flood. In addition, Dr. Bill Hardgrave, the head of Auburn University's RFID Lab, told me he receives so many requests for assistance that the lab has actually had to turn projects down.

But it's not just retail that is picking up. The news about big deployments by major retailers, such as Kohl's, Macy's, Marks & Spencer and Tesco (see Kohl's Rolls Out RFID for Select Product Categories at Its Stores, Macy's Expands RFID and Beacon Deployments, Marks & Spencer Expects to Achieve 100 Percent RFID-Tagging by 2017 and Tesco Deploys Tag-Reading Robot at Five Stores to Track F&F Clothing), has caused other industries to take a closer look at RFID as well. We are seeing a pickup across the board, with more registered readers in the RFID Journal databases. That's particularly the case in manufacturing, construction, and oil and gas (perhaps lower oil prices have encouraged energy producers to focus on improving efficiencies).

And interest is rising not just in North America and Europe. We are seeing more readers from Latin America and Asia. RFID Journal recently hosted a LIVE! conference and exhibition in Brazil, and although that country's economy is in a deep recession and the local currency has fallen sharply against the dollar, there were more than 300 attendees at the event. We're also seeing a growing number of RFID companies being launched in Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe.

Another interesting sign is that peripheral industries are showing interest in RFID. We are seeing more firms that provide information technology coming into our database, which suggests to me that customers are asking these companies about RFID applications and so they are trying to learn what they need to know. The same is true of packaging and labeling companies. We had many in our database back when Walmart was asking its suppliers to tag pallets and cases (see Wal-Mart Begins RFID Rollout). They disappeared when the retailer backed off from its requirement, but now they they are coming back.

Asset-management companies—and by this, I mean physical assets, not financial ones—are being asked by their customers to use RFID. I spoke with an attendee at this year's RFID Journal LIVE! event, who told me that his firm is hired to put bar codes on computers, peripherals, tools and the like, and to associate each bar code with a particular asset so that a customer can then use the bar codes to conduct a physical inventory count of its assets. "More and more of our customers are saying they don't want bar codes," the attendee said. "They want RFID, so we have to learn about the technology."

I am not suggesting we are on the cusp of hockey stick-like growth. What I am suggesting is that the technology has crossed the chasm and proved its worth and viability. Now, we will move inexorably toward critical mass, and when we reach that point, adoption will explode.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.