Not Going the Distance

By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2004-10-13 Email Print this article Print

Lahore says the distance limitations are precisely what will cause the current RFID efforts to stumble. "Lets say that magically we somehow have item-level tagging today. Right now, it wouldnt help [retail IT] that much. Its so far away from the reader that it doesnt do any good," he said. "The range for a passive RFID is so short that you simply cant have readers close enough to all of our tagged items. The current RFID tags dont transmit very well at all." To read more about practical and technological hurdles that self-checkout faces, click here. Wouldnt such devices be highly susceptible to in-store tampering? Yes, which is why Lahore wants so many video cameras—about one every 150 feet—integrated into the system. "Every tagged item has a unique number on it, and each item transmits its unique number approximately every 5 seconds," he said. "Im monitoring every tag in the store. If one fails to report for its census, Im going to focus the camera on that area." The camera would actually show the images from 5 to 10 seconds earlier, to depict the action at the instant the signal was interfered with.
Gartners Woods, who specializes in RFID issues, said the differentiating part of Lahores claims involve the approach to signal processing at much lower power levels.
Another RFID expert—Hassanali Namazi, the CEO of Intelletto Technologies in Canada, and who has no involvement with RespectRFID—reviewed some of Lahores specs. "I think there is a good possibility that this is not entirely hype," he concluded. To read more about a survey of RFID users fearing cost and integration hassles, click here. Namazi was most intrigued by the proposed use of the microwave segment. "The microwave frequency range does have advantages. For example, it allows the user to overcome the obstacle of having to use an active RFID tag to gain read distance," he said. "It is a technique called backscattering, in which the transponder will simply reflect back the energy as it receives it from the RFID reader. To my understanding, this technique does not eliminate the need for a battery in the tag for long-range reads, but it reduces the battery usage and therefore lengthens the battery life."
Another RFID expert is Mark Gaynor, an assistant professor in the Information Systems department at Boston University. Gaynor applauds the wireless approach but cautions that this kind of wireless RFID implementation may have usage limits, as Lahore has conceded with his "costing more than $20" comment. "I have a very flexible definition of RFID and would even call the Mars land rover a big RFID tag. I also see wide applications for these more expensive active tags. We are working with a new technology at BU called smartdust, which is next-generation RFID technology with a CPU, radio and sensors," Gaynor said. "But I see a large line between the applications for active versus passive," Gaynor added. "Adding the power costs a lot and makes the whole package much more complex. I can never see an active tag on a pair of shoes, but can see one on a flat TV where the tag would have a sensor to detect if it has been dropped." Gaynor pointed to the new European currency as another example where a battery-powered RFID chip wouldnt likely work. "Some applications will drive the technology choice. For example, Euros will have RFID tags embedded within them. I just cant see an active tag for this. Or smart cards that control access because you want the card to be close to the reader." Editors Note: This story was updated to include comments from RFID expert Mark Gaynor. Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms Retail Center for the latest news, views and analysis of this vital industry.

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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