EPCglobal Inc. hopes to finally propel radio-frequency identification from pilot status to wide-scale deployment with a new interoperability specification.
The UHF Generation 2 protocol, released in mid-December, is the first chip and reader protocol that can be used globally, regardless of reader frequency or regional regulations, according to EPC officials and industry analysts.
The spec, developed with input from 60 technology, manufacturing and retail companies, acts as a communication protocol between EPC (Electronic Product Code) tags and readers.
With better encryption technology than its predecessors, Gen 0 and Gen 1, Gen 2 provides enhanced security for data stored on tags and in corresponding databases—potentially lessening concerns for companies worried about RFID data piracy.
Gen 2 goes even further than that, providing more necessary capabilities that were missing in the first two versions, namely the ability to work in such dense reader environments as distribution centers loaded with inventory.
In addition, Gen 2 allows users to read and write multiple times to the same RFID tag. (Gen 0 permitted read-only tags, and Gen 1 let users read data multiple times but write tag data only once.) The combination of better and more ubiquitous tag and reader capabilities is expected to lower the cost of RFID tags—a major impediment to wide-scale adoption.
"Physically, the silicon [with Gen 2] becomes smaller, and thats one of the assets that makes it cheaper," said Scott Medford, vice president of RFID at Intermec Technologies Corp., an Everett, Wash., RFID hardware and software manufacturer that participated in the specification development. "In comparison to the older generation, its five to 10 times faster than Class 0 and [Class] 1. It has a lot more selectivity, which means that there is less reader-on-reader interference."
To help customers embrace the technology, EPCglobal will roll out conformance tests for the readers by the end of March.
But some major manufacturers are already moving forward with production. Texas Instruments Inc., which participated in the Gen 2 specification development, announced two weeks ago that it will deliver working samples of UHF Gen 2 products next quarter, with production expected the following quarter.
Gen 2 also serves as a steppingstone to the EPCglobal Network, which will provide companies with a neutral repository with which to share real-time information about inventory as it moves through the supply chain.