As the IEEE RFID 2009 approaches, this column examines the critical issues facing radio-frequency identification and how big the RFID market might be... Radiofrequency identification - Radio frequency - RFID - RFID standards - supply chains
Rajeev Bansal University of Connecticut 371 Fairfield Road Storrs, CT 06269-1157 USA Tel: +1 (860) 486-2878 Fax: +1 (860)486-2447 E-mail: [email protected]
Whither RFID? Keywords: RFID; RFID standards; supply chains [The] IEEE RFID 2009 conference will feature technical presentations on groundbreaking RFID technology advances, panel discussions on pressing technology and industry sector topics, plus sessions reporting preliminary results and research-in-progress.
he announcement  of IEEE RPID 2009 (April 27-28 at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort and Conference Center in Orlando, Florida), cosponsored by the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society, mentions nearly 200 submissions from more than 480 authors in 39 countries. The technical sessions will be complemented by the co-located RFID Journal LIVEI trade show. It certainly feels like an exciting time to be in the RFID (radio-frequency identification) field. But is everyone else as sanguine as the conference organizers about the future growth of RFID technology? Will the RFID market swell to over $8 billion, as some predicted  a few years ago? In a 2007 technology assessment labeled "Radio Silence" , the Economist sounded a cautionary note. The challenges to widescale deployment of RPID it pointed to were not new (see, for example, my December 2003 column ), but their resolution has been slower in coming. These critical issues include:
Business Model The cost of RFID tags has declined by 90% and the performance of readers has improved ten times since 2003 . However, the larger problem of retrofitting RPID units into existing systems is more stubborn, and is further complicated by the current flaccid state of the global economy. At a more fundamental level, while the benefits of enhanced supply-chain control and inventory management are easier to figure out for the likes ofWal-Mart, the suppliers, given their slim margins, do not have such an easy time justifying the investment in RFID systems. As we all know, unfunded mandates are seldom popular.
Privacy Attaching RFID tags to individual items, such as a designer shirt or a pair of jeans, has raised the hackles of privacy rights groups from the get go. For example, some years ago, the German retailer Metro abandoned the idea of an RFID-based customerloyalty card because of such concerns. So, as you visit the trade show at the IEEE RFID 2009 and see all the cool RPID tags, what message should you take home about the future prospects of the RPID technology? The field is certainly technically vibrant, many of the implementation issues have been worked out, but the market will grow at a more measured pace, and real action will be seen first in "closed-loop systems" for tracking goods within a company .
Global standards Business model
References 1. The Web site for IEEE RFID 2009 is located at http://www.ieeerfid.org/2009/.
2. "Radio Silence," The Economist (Technology Quarterly), June 9, 2007; summary available at http://www.economist.com/.
Since the multi-link supply chains (the so-called "open systems") for larger retailers like Wal-Mart span the globe, common standards for RFID tags and readers are a sine qua non for the success of RPID technology. By the end of 2004, a global "Gen2" standard for UHF RFID tags was ratified, but it did not happen fast enough, and has not solved all related problems. For example, there are differences in how UHF is interpreted in Japan, Europe, and the US .
3. R. Bansal, "Coming Soon to a Wal-Mart Near You," IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine, 45, 6, December 2003, pp. 105-106.
IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine, Vol. 51, No.1, February 2009
4. "RFID Thought Leaders On the Current and Future State of RFID," September 2008, available on the Web site of SupplyChainDigest at http://www.scdigest.com/assets/newsviews/08-0915-l.pdf