The RFID Interoperability Nightmare

By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2004-12-22 Print this article Print

Three key concerns about the future of RFID deployments are familiar to any IT shop: long-term upgrade paths (or the absence of same); scalability; and interoperability. On the upgrade path, some analysts are suggesting the most likely transition strategy for RFID is "start all over again."
"You have to have that mentality, that this will be really short-lived," ABIs Michielsen said. "The investment you make today is not going to be transferable into longer-term initiatives. You have to use it as a means to learn about the technology and make internal business cases."
AMRs Romanow has a similar take. "The investments are throwaway. Most suppliers, barring a couple of exceptions, are considering their entire technology investments in RFID a throwaway," she said. "These companies plan to completely replace the technology as Gen 2 products become available and as they scale their rollouts to additional SKUs and facilities." IBM is rolling out new RFID middleware. For details, click here. On the scalability and interoperability front, Michielsen said that the Generation 2 specification has not adequately addressed consistency."A major concern is that companies understand that all readers are not created equal," the ABI analyst said. "Just because a reader is labeled a Gen 2 does not mean that it will function properly with 50 other Gen 2 readers. It might be able to work with one or two readers in a closed environment, but if you get to a busy distribution center with all of these readers, theres no guarantee." Michielsen questioned whether all three types of RFID readers—single-, multi- and dense-environment—will work well in a crowded environment. "Each reader has a limited capacity in dealing with traffic. The noise from the other readers can screw up the reads." Another issue to be considered for the future is that the current RFID trials are overwhelmingly focused on EPC passive tags, while the more advanced RFID capabilities are mostly requiring active tags. The FDA has approved a surgical RFID tag. To read more, click here. "To get visibility into environmental conditions, you might need more than passive RFID, and a lot of the times you will need more," said Forresters Overby.She also pointed out that current retail RFID trials are going in very different directions. For example, Wal-Marts trial is across all product lines but is limited geographically, while Best Buy and some consumer goods manufacturers—such as Kraft Foods and Sony—are opting instead to attack the trial on a product category basis "focusing on perhaps DVDs or pharmaceuticals. Categories where there tends to be a more explicit ROI," Overby said.Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.

Evan Schuman is the editor of's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at

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