RealTime IT News
Next-Gen RFID Standard Ratified
By Susan Kuchinskas
December 17, 2004

EPCglobal released a standard for the next generation of radio frequency identification (RFID) and the electronic product code (EPC). The protocol is the technical framework on which all future products can be built, including tags, readers and other technology.

EPCglobal is a not-for-profit standards organization that's working to drive adoption of EPC technology that would enable the identification and tracking of individual items.

The RFID industry suffered from a proliferation of standards, according to Sue Hutchinson, director of product management for EPCglobal. EPCglobal had two GEN-1 standards, while ISO had two UHF air interface standards.

"Whether you were a customer or a vendor trying to build, it was a little confusing," she said. "This gives us a harmonized standard for UHF RFID that the industry around the globe can build to," she said. "Anytime we can come up with a harmonized standard that lets us concentrate the market, it helps drive the economy for the industry."

To develop the UHF Generation 2 (Gen 2) standard, EPCglobal developed a strong set of end-user requirements, then melded the best features of four competing proposals.

Gen 2 made several improvements over the various standards in use before. Most important, Hutchinson said, is that it's a global standard that uses frequency and power in a way that complies with the major regional regulatory environments.

In addition to improvements in security of the data on the tag, the standard includes the ability to lock the identification fields in the tag, so that they can't be spoofed or changed without a password. It also includes a strong kill mechanism, so retailers and others have the option of automatically erasing all data from the tag as it passes through a reader.

Hutchinson said that the standard does not allow for encryption, because one of the user requirements for the standard was that the tags be inexpensive. But security issues will continue to be addressed in the hardware and policy working groups.

"Privacy will be a combination of the usage of the technology with policy and business practices as well," she said. "The policy steering committee is working to understand how to address consumer concerns."

RFID tags can be thought of as bar codes on steroids. They contain a tiny transponder that, when it comes within distance of a reader, transmits its unique identifier, which can be matched to a database. EPCglobal envisions a unique EPC stored in an RFID tag attached to every item in a supply chain.

Because the transmission is automatic and doesn't require a line of sight, RFID technology could automate many processes in a supply chain and capture information at new points. For example, RFID could alert a shipper that a pallet has fallen off the back of a truck, or that a case never arrived at the retailer.

The technology has broad applicability and can be used by multiple industry sectors, Hutchinson said, including automotive, aerospace and defense, pharmaceuticals and medical device manufacturing.

Technology research firm IDC considers RFID a disruptive technology, and forecasts the market for related consulting, implementation and managed services to grow by 47 percent in 2004 and reach $2 billion worldwide by 2008.

Stratton Sclavos, CEO of VeriSign, the company that won the contract to build the EPCglobal network infrastructure, told that RFID and the electronic product codes they'll contain could transform business as much as the Internet did.

"In 1994, it wasn't clear why businesses would use the Internet vs. EDI or private lease lines," he said. "And many of the people who would be the biggest beneficiaries were the biggest naysayers. Right now, people question the value of EPC vs. building all the infrastructure themselves. Once we begin to develop the capabilities, people will wake up and say, 'Wow, that looks like the Internet.'"