RFID Standards Take Center Stage

The importance of RFID tag standards to broad, successful use of the technology was apparent in discussions at the recent EPCglobal ( www.epcglobalinc.org) conference.

On the one hand, standards for Class 0 and 1 tags are in place, and will help with implementations preparing to go live in the next few weeks. For instance, companies such as The Campbell Soup Company and VF Corp. will use these standards as they begin shipping RFID-tagged cases and pallets to meet Wal-Mart's January 2005 deadline.

Those standards were also critical to the success of a recent eight-week test involving pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

Nearly 13,500 packages of pharmaceuticals were shipped during the test, using current label standards. The intent was to show that electronic product codes and RFID technologies can increase product security, improve order accuracy, reduce labor costs and streamline product recalls and returns.

On the other hand, new tag standards for UHF Gen 2 passive tags are proving to be elusive. This is especially critical because Wal-Mart and others are pushing suppliers to use Gen 2 tags, replacing Class 0 and 1 tags now being used. However, that is impractical until standards are finalized.

Under development by EPCglobal and originally set for ratification in early October, the Gen 2 standards should now be approved, "yet this year," says Sue Hutchinson, director of product management at EPCglobal. Intellectual property issues are the major stumbling block at this point.

When completed, the new standard is expected to offer higher read and write rates and deliver better performance in the noisy distribution environment. "It will make the command set be robust, but as simple as possible, for users operating in different frequency ranges," says Hutchinson.

Few are underestimating the value of a Gen 2 standard before it can be widely implemented. As Mal Postings, global head of mobility at Capgemini, points out, standards are critical to processing and managing the data generated by smart labels on a broad scale to facilitate operations like inventory and order management.