From The Editor | May 28, 2010

The Choices That Come With RFID Maturity

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By Ed Hess, Executive Editor, Integrated Solutions magazine

When I attended the RFID Journal Live! event a couple of months back, it was clear that the industry had matured greatly over the past few years. One indication was the development of RFID (radio frequency identification) products — typically hardware — that are designed for specific markets and applications.

It wasn’t that long ago that all portal readers had the same industrial look and feel. Now, you can choose wall-mount portal readers with different color housings and stylized designs. These readers now fit nicely with the retail or professional environments where they’re being installed. Similarly, handheld RFID readers have evolved from bulky units to aesthetically and ergonomically pleasing readers. Enterprises now have choices depending on whether RFID is being deployed in a warehouse, an in-store retail application, or a professional office setting. It’s a sign of industry maturity that vendors now offer different product options depending on how and where the technology is being deployed.

Market Maturity Brings Product Options
If you want to see a rough road map for where RFID products are heading, you don’t need to look beyond the rugged mobility space. When this market began to emerge, hardware options were pretty limited. Brick-like devices ran Windows CE on monochrome screens. And, while every vendor brought something unique to the table, end users couldn’t be faulted for thinking that all of their hardware choices were pretty similar.

Things couldn’t be any more different today. Enterprises have their choice of mobile computers that range from consumer grade to ultrarugged. There are choices in operating systems and keypad configurations. In terms of optional configurations, the array of choices is almost dizzying. Bar code readers (1-D and 2-D imagers), Wi-Fi connectivity, WWAN (wireless WAN) connectivity, integrated GPS, Bluetooth connectivity, and touchpad capabilities are all available in any combination.

It’s nearly impossible to think of an application for mobile computing where there isn’t a device available that’s just waiting to be applied. (I’m saying “nearly impossible” just to hedge my bet. For the record, I can’t think of an application.) Finding the right solution is no longer a stumbling block to mobility deployments. And, this will quickly become the case for RFID. If the solution isn’t available right now, it’s probably already in development.