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Wal-Mart Expands RFID Plans

After meeting with its top 300 suppliers, the U.S.'s largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores, said it will expand its RFID roll-out faster than expected.

Wal-Mart has been working towards a self-imposed January 2005 deadline to RFID-enable its North Texas operation, along with 100 of its suppliers. The first full-scale operational test began on April 30th.

Today Wal-Mart said that it had expanded its supplier scope and deployment plan for RFID to 200 more suppliers. "We discussed implementation plans with our next top 200 suppliers," Linda Dillman, executive vice president and CIO for Wal-Mart, said in a statement. "Over the next 16 months, we also plan to significantly increase the number of Wal-Mart stores and Sam's Club locations where customers can benefit from this revolutionary technology."

Under the schedule announced today by Wal-Mart, it expects to be live in up to six distribution centers and 250 Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores by June 2005. By October of 2005, those numbers are planned to more than double, with tags deployed in up to 13 distribution centers and 600 Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores.

Erik Michielsen, senior analyst for ABI Research, believes that Wal-Mart's announcement is indicative of the industry's continued maturation. "It's great news for the RFID industry, because it just continues to show that Wal-Mart is committed to the technology, and that its suppliers have been and continue to be actively pursuing a better understanding of what RFID can do for them," Michielsen told internetnews.com.

Companies that were in the first two quarters of this year testing the technology are now doing small implementations that are built for scale, Michielsen said. "Companies that are active in the market have a much better understanding of whom to work with, whom to partner with and how to scale the RFID projects based on business cases," he said.

"We're still in the infancy in terms of scale, but that infancy is still hundreds of millions of dollars," Michielsen said. "The progress that Wal-Mart is demonstrating with its announcement this week is indicative of the progress that has been made."

The pilot project that began on April 30th of this year has been progressing well according to Wal-Mart.

"We're seeing the positive results we expected," Wal-Mart's Dillman said in the statement. "We also anticipated hitting a few minor bumps in the road, which has happened. The whole reason for a pilot is to fix any last minute issues and clear the path for a smooth implementation. That's what we're doing, and we're looking forward to January 2005 with great expectations."

Wal-Mart said that it expects consumer to begin seeing more products that carry the EPCglobal symbol as it continues to expand the number of supplier using the tags every few weeks. The products that are expected to be tagged include larger items such as lawnmowers and bicycles, as well as electronic products.