Not an RFID Problem

By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2012-04-29 Print this article Print

as Much as an EPC, Gen2 and UHF Problem"> Fontanella stressed that this is a continuation of a very unfriendly trend. "This is the second time in six months where weve asked" about difficulties finding talent with RFID experience. Both times, "We get a resounding Yes, we have a shortage. Its bad enough to … slow the growth of RFID," he said. Part of the problem is that its not a shortage of experience with RFID itself—which is far from new—but with the particular flavors of RFID deployment that companies are dealing with today. "RFID has been around for 60 years. Its certainly been used in the industry for 20 or 25 years. Granted, that may be proprietary applications of RFID," he said. "But the key is that its likely not passive RFID as we know it today, with active tags. Whats new is EPC [Electronic Product Code] and the passive UHF tag and the standard that goes along with it, Gen2. Thats where people are lacking experience, with Gen2 and the readers that support it. And, quite likely, with UHF in general."
But isnt Gen2 far too new for anyone to have much experience? Not necessarily, Fontanella said, pointing to the extensive advance work many system integrators have been involved with. "If you look at the integrators of any size, the smart ones have been way ahead of the curve on Gen2," he said. "In fact, theyve been part of the standards construction of Gen2 so they could anticipate what Gen2 would be like well before it was accepted by EPC."
Working with Gen2s challenges has already proven difficult for industry leaders Wal-Mart and Tesco and the standards groups are already hard at work on Gen3. Ultimately, Fontanella predicts, this RFID staffing problem will go away, probably in the next two to three years, mostly because universities are starting to focus on RFID education. "There are four or five universities in Europe alone that are focusing on RFID," he said, adding that some U.S. schools—including MIT, Georgia Tech and the University of Texas—are also beginning to train students in RFID-related topics. RFID applications in bartending? Read more here. Even for those companies that are faring well today, Fontanella projects some difficulties when they make the next logical RFID move. Not all of the lessons learned in the initial deployment phases will prove helpful when RFID scales up, he said. "While a quarter of respondents say that they will continue to manage readers at the site level, a significant minority are already planning strategies to centralize control, eliminating the expense of having to have skilled on-site personnel at every RFID-deployed location. This strategy assumes that the complex issues around the physics of a large deployment can be solved as the RFID network scales," the report said. "The industry has seen this year [2006] that the trial and error method used to set up one or two points within a site is untenable when planning for 15, 50 or 500 readers that will be in close proximity. The physics issue becomes an order of magnitude larger within such a dense reader environment." Much of the explanation for that is a weakness in RFID middleware, which vendors have only recently started to address, Fontanella said. "Its only been over the last year that usable technology has been introduced to [allow companies to] be able to manage multiple sites, multiple deployments of readers," he said. As the industry moves into the next phase of deployment, Aberdeen is recommending that companies focus not so much on the software or the networks—and certainly not the tags or chips themselves—but on readers. The extent to which readers become more sophisticated will sharply impact the ease of RFID scalability. "In many cases, they are going to want to look at much smarter readers, so that the readers themselves have the intelligence to make decisions. In a simple case, if Im tagging boxes on a production line, my reader looks down the line and sees a case and cant read the tag," he said. "It has to make an instantaneous decision whether to kick that case off the line or let it pass through. Then its got to communicate that decision to the PLC so the PLC can take action." Next Page: Managing tons of RFID readers.

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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