The Value of an HF EPC Standard

By Mark Roberti

Although GS1's ratification of a high-frequency standard did not generate a lot of buzz, it is good news for end users.

Last month, GS1 ratified an Electronic Product Code (EPC) standard for high-frequency (HF) RFID tags (see GS1 Ratifies EPC HF Standard, Aerospace Tag-Data Amendment). The ratification took longer than expected, because GS1 first had to work through some complex intellectual-property issues. In the meantime, other HF standards—ISO 15693 and ISO 14443—have gained significant traction. Still, the HF EPC standard is good news for end users.

I don't expect everyone currently employing the ISO 14443 standard for financial transactions, or the ISO 15693 standard for access control and inventory tracking, to immediately switch to the new HF EPC standard. But the new standard does offer some additional features that could be of value to those currently utilizing ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC tags, as well as those employing the existing standards.

The new air-interface protocol (officially known as v2.0.3) will enable 13.56 MHz RFID tags to be utilized with EPC numbers, and the protocol is the same as for the ISO 18000-3 Mode 3 (3M3) standard, published in November 2010 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). So the HF EPC standard, like the UHF standard, is globally recognized.

HF RFID systems behave differently than UHF solutions. HF tags have a shorter read range, and the read field is well-defined. Moreover, less energy is absorbed by water at the HF frequency (13.56 MHz) than at the UHF frequency (860 to 960 MHz), so they perform a little more consistently in the presence of products containing high water content. And radio waves penetrate materials a little better at lower frequency, so HF tags might be useful when embedding tags in certain types of packages.

For these reasons, some companies might opt to use HF tags on individual items, and UHF tags on pallets and cases. Since tags based on the new HF EPC standard will employ the same data structures and reader commands as the UHF standard, you could use a single reader with a UHF and HF module to communicate with both tag types.

HF tags based on the new protocol will have a transponder ID (TID), an EPC and user memory option, and a similar command set to UHF tags. If, for example, your company has developed a system for saving information in user memory regarding which store an item should be shipped to, you can employ the same system with both UHF and HF tags.

Will the additional features be enough to encourage adoption of the EPC HF standard? It's difficult to say. It will depend on whether vendors embrace and promote the standard, and on whether any large end users adopt it. My guess is that the HF standard might catch on over time as pharmaceutical manufacturers and other end users deploy UHF systems at the pallet and case levels, and then eventually replace 2-D bar codes with RFID tags at the item level.

Regardless of how quickly or slowly the standard catches on, it offers another choice for end users—and that's good news.

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.