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Sun To Open RFID Test Center

Sun Microsystems Wednesday said it will open a testing center in Dallas next month to take advantage of Wal-Mart's concentrated interest in radio frequency identification tags (commonly referred to as RFID).

This week, Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart met with its top 100 suppliers to set standards on how the company will use the Electronic Product Code (EPC) compliant RFID. The retail giant has mandated the use of the tracking technology by all of its suppliers by 2005. The move is similar to Wal-Mart's precedence for bar coding in the 1980's.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun's support for Wal-Mart's foray is an extension of the network computer maker's plans to offer hardware, software and services that enable enterprises to link into the Elecronic Product Code (EPN) Network.

"RFID is a game changer for retailers, manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies to name just a few of the impacted industries," Sun executive vice president Jonathan Schwartz said in a statement. "Sun is committed to providing open, standards-based RFID middleware software that leverages our Sun Java Enterprise System."

RFID technology allows manufacturers, retailers, logistics providers, and other organizations to "tag" physical goods with tiny radio transponders that can then be used to identify the goods without having to visually inspect them. Applications for the technology include automatic inventory management for retailers and manufacturers, improved supply chain efficiency for logistics companies and their customers, and better tracking of goods to reduce theft and loss.

Sun says Wal-Mart's hundreds of suppliers must take action now to ensure they will remain on the shelves of the retail giant. Because the Wal-Mart Test Center and the RFID Test Centers are built using the same technology, its suppliers can test their RFID solution first with Sun and be guaranteed 100 percent compliance with Wal-Mart's RFID specifications.

"We've been working with customers to determine the most cost effective way to help with compliance to Wal-Mart requirements and needed to provide hand-on access to the technology and systems needed," Sun Auto-ID Business Unit director Julie Sarbacker. "With this new center, we aim to reduce the time and expense suppliers will have to undergo to support Wal-Mart's requirements."

The Sun RFID Test Center will be powered by the Solaris Operating System using Sun Java Enterprise Software and the Sun standards-based implementation of Savant with additional value around self healing and provisioning of EPC readers. The company says customers will also be able to test RFID technology in conjunction with Sun's Java Enterprise Software.

Many see Wal-Mart's adoption of RFID tags as validation of the technology. Industry analysts and major retailers have estimated that widespread adoption of RFID technology could save companies tens of billions of dollars annually. One analysis indicated that the world's largest retailer alone could save as much as $8.35 billion per year - more than the total annual revenue of half the companies on the Fortune 500. Already Gillette and UK supermarket chain Tesco have tested embedding tags in packages of razor blades and using RFID tags to trigger a camera when a package was removed from the shelf.