Feb 19, 2016In 2006, GS1 began issuing certifications to RFID tag, reader and printer providers whose EPC Gen 2 products passed specific tests verifying their interoperability. This means end users can choose certified hardware from different vendors and have confidence the products will work together. The GS1 website lists more than 50 certified RFID tags, readers and printers.
Last month, GS1 released version 2.0 of the Interoperability Test Methodology for EPC-Compliant Gen 2 UHF RFID Devices, incorporating Gen2v2 enhancements. This led me to reflect on the sad fact that reader-to-software certification has not caught on the way tag-to-reader certification has.
Interoperability certification between readers and software would assure end users that any certified software application they deploy would work with any certified reader. They could choose the application that best meets their business requirements and the reader that is most cost-effective or best fits their site's physical configuration, and be confident they would work together.
GS1's Low-Level Reader Protocol, a standard interface that is the same regardless of vendor, was supposed to make this possible. A few reader and software vendors claim support for LLRP, and GS1 tried to launch an LLRP certification program in 2007. But no reader or software vendor sought the certification, and the program was abandoned for lack of interest. That means when you want to purchase RFID software—either middleware or a complete software application that interfaces directly to RFID readers—it's not easy to know if it will work with your readers.
The website of a popular RFID software application, for example, says it offers "software that sets up in minutes." Key to this claim is the smooth integration of the software with the customer's chosen readers. The website says its product "is compatible with most fixed RFID readers that run LLRP." But note the word "most"—without adequate testing, the software vendor cannot be sure it will work with any reader that claims LLRP compliance.
Explore the website more carefully, and you'll find it lists only 13 specific readers that have been tested with the software. And only half of those readers use LLRP; the rest use the reader vendor's proprietary software interface.
Short compatibility lists are the norm. Some reader vendors avoid certification because it would enable end users to swap their readers with those from other manufacturers. And it's expensive for software companies to test their products with all the readers on the market.
Software interoperability testing can have benefits higher in the stack, too. GS1, for example, offers a certification test for the Application Level Events interface between RFID middleware and business applications, and for Electronic Product Code Information Services products, to ensure data-capture and traceability applications work together. These certification programs have met with somewhat more success. It's time for ALE, EPCIS and reader-to-software certifications to become standard practice in the industry.
Ken Traub is the founder of Ken Traub Consulting, a Mass.-based firm providing services to companies that rely on advanced software technology to run their businesses. Send your software questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.