The Year Ahead

By Mark Roberti

Expect to see RFID adoption accelerate, but not explode.


I’ve been writing about deployments of radio frequency identification and the RFID industry for 12 years now. During that time, I have seen a lot of ups and downs in terms of expectations for the technology, but I feel that RFID has finally reached a level of maturity at which companies of all sizes—and in every industry—can deploy a system with relatively little risk. That means we should see steady growth this year in the use of RFID worldwide.

There were some positive developments at the end of 2013 that will also provide some wind in the RFID industry’s sails. Most RFID solution providers have settled patent infringement lawsuits with Round Rock Research, a patent licensing firm that sued several large users of RFID technology (see Round Rock Completes Licensing Deals With Majority of RFID Vendors). While the lawsuits did not stop all deployments, it caused some companies to slow their plans to roll out RFID systems. Others went silent, which gave the perception that adoption was slowing. With the threat of a lawsuit now largely lifted, end users can proceed with one less concern about using the technology.

Another positive development was GS1‘s ratification of the second version of the EPC Gen 2 standard. The new version of the ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) standard adds features intended to improve security and deter the counterfeiting of tagged products, by enabling the authentication of a tag or reader. It includes privacy features for consumers, as well as a way for embedded tags to identify themselves as such to an interrogator (see GS1 Ratifies EPC Gen2v2, Adds Security Features, More Memory).

The new EPC Gen2v2 standard, as it is known, also enables a tag’s user memory to be partitioned into multiple files. Readers can be granted access to some or all files, and some data can be locked permanently (that is, made unchangeable), while other information could be rewritten. This partitioning capability means memory can now be used to store information, such as parts maintenance, purchases or returns, and product lifecycle. Businesses can have the flexibility to determine who gets access to what data, as well as which information can be rewritten, thereby affording end users greater flexibility.

The new version of the Electronic Product Code (EPC) standard will benefit retailers and brand owners, which should boost RFID’s adoption in the retail industry. I think we will see several retailers announce, during the year, that they have begun rolling out RFID systems to track individual items in stores. Brand owners using EPC RFID for authentication will likely not go public with their plans, not wanting to alert counterfeiters to their tactics.

The EPC Gen2v2 standard will benefit the aerospace industry, by better enabling the storage of parts histories on a tag, as well as manufacturers that want to store product lifecycle or warranty information on the tag. Construction and energy companies could also benefit from the new features, due to the ability to store inspection information and make that data available only to certain groups of users.

While it is getting easier to deploy an RFID system, I don’t expect to see a dramatic ramp-up in RFID adoption this year. It takes time to roll out a new system. Some retailers, for example, have RFID-enabled a store in a day or two, but it takes time to get suppliers to tag items, to train staff and make sure the solution is being used as designed. Still, by the end of this decade, I predict virtually all apparel, a large percentage of jewelry and many other retail items will be identified via RFID tags.

I believe 2014 will be a year of steady growth in adoption within all industries, and that it will move the technology another important step closer to crossing the chasm in the retail sector.

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.