Spanning the RFID Standards “Chasm”

By Grant Hunter

Guidelines, tools and adoption services are available that provide a bridge to standards compliance—and business success.

A recent RFID Journal guest column by Bill Hoffman about what he perceived to be a disparity between RFID standards and implementation got my close attention (see The Chasm Between RFID Standards and Implementation). This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows that I am the new VP of GS1 US subsidiary EPCglobal US, a not-for-profit organization that is active in RFID standards and implementation.

I and my team might quibble over whether "chasm" is really the right word, but after closely reading the article, we agree with the author that RFID implementers' bandwidth to grasp standards falls short of what is available to them. Ideally, however, those implementers shouldn't have to wrestle with the standards at all.

Does a homeowner installing a new wireless router need to understand the IEEE 802.11 (a, b, g, n) standards in order to get online? No, and there are probably dozens of analogous (no pun intended) examples in which implementers can remain blessedly ignorant of the standards they benefit from.

For RFID implementers to be able to focus on just applications, they do need to have a few things in place, though—most important, very precise technical standards enabling tags and interrogators to communicate, and allowing users to understand the data on the tags and exchange visibility information with others. For those technical standards to be usable by the broadest possible number of industries and types of users, they tend to be long and detailed—just ask anyone who has worked on a GS1 EPCglobal, ISO or IEEE technical standard.

Organizations like the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG), the Financial Services Technology Consortium and the Ag Gateway best serve their industries by taking those very complex technical standards and developing industry-specific guidelines for their use. For examples, we can look to the extensive work AIAG has done with the B-11 standard referenced in Hoffman's article, as well as EPCglobal's efforts this fall with the EAS-RFID guidelines for retail (see GS1 Releases Guidelines for RFID-based Electronic Article Surveillance).

EPCglobal (our global standards organization) is helping in these efforts by running certification programs for those complex, technical standards, so that companies implementing Electronic Product Code (EPC) and RFID technologies can easily find products that have been certified to comply with the standards. Such efforts bring us closer to plug-and-play for not only readers and tags, but also data capture and exchange software. Anyone wishing to view the current list of certified hardware and software products can do so at GS1 EPCglobal.

Our team at EPCglobal US also helps implementers by providing education on the use of our standards and hands-on help for companies planning an EPC RFID implementation. We offer online tools for return-on-investment modeling, and for locating hardware and software vendors and integration service providers that can make an implementer's plans a reality. In 2010, we plan to add a "standards-ready" certification for integrators and consultants in the United States, as another way to close the gap between the standards and those who will benefit from them.

We understand the move into an RFID implementation can be daunting. But standards are there to help, and implementers should know that guidelines, tools and adoption services provide a bridge to standards compliance—and business success.

Grant Hunter is the VP of products and solutions at EPCglobal US. To learn more about EPC RFID standards and implementations, visit the Web sites of EPCglobal US or GS1 EPCglobal—or contact Sue Hutchinson, EPCglobal US' director of industry adoption, at or (609) 620-4591, or Jim Mannion, the organization's solutions marketing director, at or (609) 620-8002.