Radio Tags May Shine in Olympic Spotlight

With the hype over its role in the supply chain fading, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology could make a big splash at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

The opportunity is being considered by UPS, the world's largest package delivery company and the event's official logistics and express delivery sponsor.

"It's a good suggestion," said UPS chief operating officer John Beystehner, on the sidelines of the Atlanta-based firm's recent Asian Tech Summit in Hong Kong.

Under an agreement signed last month with the Beijing Organising Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, UPS will develop and execute the logistics operating plan for the event. UPS was a global sponsor of the Olympic Games from 1995 to 2000.

The mainland recently became an emerging market for RFID applications because of demands by large global retailers to improve the tracking of goods from their mainland manufacturing partners.

RFID - which for now complements existing bar code tracking systems - employs an infrastructure comprising silicon tags, readers, software and other relevant communications and computing hardware to help companies automatically track inventory throughout an entire supply chain.

Any potential Olympics-related RFID project on the mainland may involve a deployment in Hong Kong, which is hosting the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic equestrian events.

Bob Nonneman, UPS industrial engineering manager and RFID expert, said the technology's application was "something the team could look into" based on the company's experience with RFID.

"UPS' overall RFID strategy is built upon four key pillars: helping customers, testing technology for internal use, investing in technological knowledge and formulating global standards," he said.

UPS has conducted a variety of RFID tests at a number of locations around the world. Its professional services arm, meanwhile, was helping various corporate customers implement their own RFID pilot programmes.

Research firm Analysys International forecasts the mainland's RFID market will grow 30 per cent this year to 1.5 billion yuan from about 1.2 billion yuan last year. It said the mainland's government, transport and manufacturing sectors were key sectors for RFID application.

"Logistics and end-to-end supply chain in manufacturing will become key areas [for RFID] in the next two to three years," Analysys research manager Charles Jiang said.

Copyright ©2005 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd.

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