Magazine Article | June 1, 2005

RFID? What Ever ...

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

There are plenty of reasons to delay an RFID (radio frequency identification) project. But none of them are good.

Integrated Solutions, June 2005
What ever happened to the 5-cent tag? It was all everyone wanted to talk about when Wal-Mart announced its RFID initiative roughly two years ago. Without a nickel tag, the big-box retailer's initiative would stall. End users claimed they couldn't absorb a 5-cent increase in the cost of doing business. They were going to dig in on this issue.

What ever happened to those stories about Wal-Mart backing down on its January 2005 mandate? No one at Wal-Mart ever intimated this thought, but there were enough "murmurs" to generate a good number of articles. The retailer could not, and did not, expect its top 100 suppliers to be compliant by its target date. It would have to scale back its initiative.

What ever happened to the show-stopping arguments over an EPC Gen 2 standard? The Freedom team, composed of the top vendors in RFID, had its proposal for a Gen 2 standard. The Global team, also -- as fate would have it -- composed of the top vendors in RFID, had its proposal for a Gen 2 standard. Surely, this many vendors could not agree on a common standard.

What ever happened to the EPC Gen 2 deadline, which couldn't possibly be met? It was the third quarter of 2004 and there still wasn't a spec in place. An amicable agreement just wasn't in the cards. Even if a tentative agreement was struck, that would be followed by a comment period of 60 days. It was a nice effort, but 2004 would draw to a close without an EPC Gen 2 spec.

What ever happened to the looming showdown between EPC and ISO? EPC may get RFID standards in place for North America, but that wouldn't have any impact throughout the rest of the world. For a standard to be applied globally, it needed ISO ratification. That process takes years. EPC and Wal-Mart can't impose their collective wills across the globe. There are issues of frequencies and interoperability that only an ISO standard can address. And, that's not happening any time soon.

What ever happened to RFID being solely a Wal-Mart- driven mandate? Wal-Mart gave the technology a kick-start by putting the squeeze on its suppliers. But, don't expect other retailers to follow suit. Wal-Mart will expend its resources and alienate suppliers while other retailers sit back and learn lessons from the behemoth. Pioneers lead the way, but they also absorb the arrows. Wal-Mart will be doing this on its own.

RFID faced plenty of deal-killing issues in the past two years. Any one of these items would have been enough to force a lesser technology into niche applications or, worse yet, obscurity. But, RFID has continued to gain mind share. Suppliers have come to terms with the current cost of tags. Wal-Mart has already announced plans to expand its initiative to include more suppliers, stores, and DCs. In fact, other retailers (e.g. Target, Best Buy, Albertsons) have joined Wal-Mart in voicing intentions to use RFID. And behind the scenes, an EPC RFID Gen 2 spec was announced on time, and ISO has it on a fast track for ratification.

So, how do you answer this question: What ever happened to those companies that looked for excuses to delay RFID's adoption within their enterprises?