The Crossroads of Communications and RFID

By Dave George

Communication devices are paving the way for advanced RFID capabilities, and are laying a roadmap to more profitable businesses and efficient workforces.

Gone are the days when cellphones were mainly used to talk. Now, smartphones are portable computers that function as networks that support both our personal and professional lives. Yet, despite its prominent position among the workforce, not all businesses have taken advantage of cellular capabilities. However, hardware and application breakthroughs are enticing companies to view phones as less of a social device, and more an all-in-one communications and RFID management tool.

Apps Make RFID Accessible
Smart devices have become a critical link to IoT advancements. They can function as both readers for bar-code scanning and writers used during transactions via RFID readers. These abilities will continue to be exploited by mobile application developers and will eventually eradicate the need for expensive software installations and equipment. An employee simply needs to install the app on his or her phone, to be used in conjunction with RFID tags and readers.

Data can be shared or searched company-wide as it becomes available. Real-time updates are a timesaving convenience that benefit both a business and its customers. Airlines have also created apps that allow users to track their luggage's journey via RFID tags. As a technologist, I believe users will soon be able to receive more real-time information from a multitude of sources simultaneously, without ever having to touch a communications device.

As app sophistication advances, the voice function could become a much lower priority than data that supports a plethora of new capabilities, though some of these same apps might also include messaging. An RFID-deployment app could contain push-to-talk (PTT) over cellular (PoC) capabilities that won't only be limited to logistics and supply chain departments. Public transportation, field services, retail, professionals and other users from across many vertical markets are already incorporating industry-specific PoC applications.

In the hospitality and property-management sectors, radio communications were once managed by the maintenance department. Now, more often than not, they are run by the IT department, and employees are using iPod Touches with PoC apps, which are tied to the company's computer networks. This is just one example of sophisticated adaptation to new communication technologies.

Rise of End-User Customization
Voracious cellular market growth has led to a demand for a variety of new products and accessories in a wide range of industries. PTT products for smart devices with PoC applications have accounted for a 30 percent increase in Pryme's business, which has expanded its line of more than 5,500 accessories and initiated technology development for more than 20 different PTT app partners. Because technology is rarely one-size-fits-all, new uses and unique needs must be addressed on an industry-centric basis.

For example, wireless PTT can be cost-prohibitive, or create pairing and charging issues for some users. Though wired accessories are usually more reliable, many devices weren't designed for PTT. So Pryme developed a wired alternative to dependably manage PTT and PoC apps that wouldn't be subject to wireless pitfalls: the new PICO wired surveillance kit. Yet, I believe wireless technologies will eventually evolve to successfully accommodate unique user demands. Pryme has already begun adding Near Field Pairing (NFC), which automatically connects headsets or PTT buttons to phones or tablets.

Smart Technologies for Smart Businesses
Augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence are no-longer science fiction. These days, they are vital for businesses to stay competitive and relevant. Cases in point: a combination of augmented reality and RFID delivers more accurate logistics reporting with 3D visualization, in addition to decreasing damages and losses. Artificial intelligence is acting as a 24-7 watchdog to identify potential problems before they can occur. Rather than replacing RFID, emerging technologies are becoming its newest partners. The possibilities are endless for these emerging technologies.

RFID in Law Enforcement
The rollout of FirstNet is transitioning first responders from LMR to LTE cellular, though I foresee an increase in more robust hardware for public-safety users. Specialized mobile applications will prove very useful in many scenarios. For instance, if an officer were in pursuit of a suspect, an app could record when the patrol car stopped, when the car doors opened, whether the officer gave chase or removed his or her gun from its holster, and when shots were fired. Perhaps sound processing technology will even report what type of gun was fired, as it may not always be the officers. The smart device could even double as a body camera, activating automatically if specific movements were detected. RFID would add a lot details to the application with the unit number of the patrol car, the ID of the officer's smartphone or gun, and so forth.

It isn't a reach to think smartphones will revolutionize the private and public sectors during the coming years, or even months. But one thing is certain: common communication devices found in nearly every pocket are paving the way for advanced RFID capabilities, and are laying a roadmap to more profitable businesses and efficient workforces.

Dave George, Pryme Radio's chief engineer and president, holds 29 patents and is the inventor of multiple award-winning products. An RF engineer for more than 40 years, George is a key influencer in the public sector's transition from radio to broadband. He is considered an industry thought leader whose keen insight is renowned in the communications technology field. Aside from running a successful communications accessory company, George also coaches a Southern California high school robotics team.