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VeriSign Links EPC Network to GDSN

The company in charge of providing the Object Naming Service (ONS) for the developing "Internet of things" has a scheme to connect those names with databases of their descriptions.

VeriSign is set to demonstrate interoperation between its EPC Network, which gives products in the supply chain unique IP addresses, and the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN), executives with VeriSign said Friday.

Retailers use the GDSN to hold information about the attributes of their products, such as color, size and weight. Over the last five years, trading partners have signed up with several different GDSN service providers, so that they can pool their info in a central repository that's automatically maintained and updated.

The EPC Network is different and complementary, according to Jon Brendsel, VeriSign's director of EPS services. While the GDSN contains static attributes common to all products in a SKU, he said, the EPC Network offers dynamic product information like expiration dates and product movement.

For example, all blue cans of cola produced by a bottler would share a single entry in the GDSN. A retailer could -- someday -- use the EPC Network to find out when a cola can was filled and whether it got too hot in transit.

"The EPC Network is an extension to the existing GDSN," Brendsel said. "Two months ago, we shifted our focus from building our network to addressing... 'how does this new EPC Network work with the existing network?'"

"Many companies have heavily invested in data synchronization, and so they would have little appetite for signing up to a new stand-alone network," said Christine Overby, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. "Bringing the two together is also a critical step in realizing the value of RFID."

Mountain View, Calif.-based VeriSign, the manager of the registries for the .com and .net domains, landed the job of managing a similar root directory for identifying individual items as they move through the supply chain, from manufacturer to the store shelves. The ONS is the root directory for the EPCglobal Network, a system combining radio frequency identification (RFID) technology with electronic product codes (EPC) to create a standard way for partners to trade information about products.

Already, large retailers, including Albertsons Stores, Target and Wal-Mart, are experimenting with using RFID tags to replace bar codes. While barcodes need to be manually scanned, RFID tags relay their information automatically when they come close to an electronic reader.

VeriSign's EPC Network, operated under contract from the industry consortium EPCglobal, uses the existing public Internet infrastructure to let businesses track and trace products through the supply chain. The network, which went live in January, has three parts: The ONS Registry is a master directory of product IP addresses, similar to the DNS registry. EPC Information Services are databases maintained by individual entities in the supply chain; they allow partners to match the unique identifying information coded into the RFID tag with information such as its manufacture or ship date.

EPCglobal pays VeriSign to build out and manage the ONS root directory platform; it plans to charge a subscription fee to companies for use of the network. If RFID and electronic product codes come into wide use, VeriSign's root ONS directory might have to handle lookups for billions of EPC queries per day.

VeriSign has been cooperating with seven GDSN operators on a proof of the concept of connecting the EPCN with the GDSN. Next week, at trade shows in Los Angeles and Brussels, the company will demonstrate how it works.

"The point is that through one application, we are merging two different types of data from two different networks," Brendsel said.

Overby said that the connection will enable trading partners to cooperate better.

"Many of the largest manufacturers and retailers are fairly automated in their warehouses because of barcodes," she said. "RFID will provide the biggest near-term benefits by automating the link between the manufacturer and retailer. The connection between EPC Network and data pools was the missing link, so it's good that EPC Global, VeriSign, and the data pools are working together."