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
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
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 internetnews.com 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.'”