VeriSign Inc. last week took the first step toward establishing itself as a major player in the RFID world when it won the contract to operate the RFID equivalent of the Internets root-name servers.
This is a familiar position for VeriSign, which runs several of the root DNS (Domain Name System) servers that house the Internets listing of which IP addresses correspond to which Web site names. Now, the Mountain View, Calif., company will provide much the same service for the growing number of retailers, manufacturers and other companies that are turning to radio-frequency identification technology to help track their inventory.
ONS (Object Naming Service), as the new directory is called, will store all EPCs (electronic product codes) assigned to individual objects that carry RFID tags. Each EPC is a unique number that enables retailers and wholesalers to track goods as they move through their inventories. The codes are embedded in tags that use RFID technology to communicate with special readers.
In building the RFID directory, VeriSign will work with EPCglobal Inc., a not-for-profit consortium. EPCglobal has built, with the help of the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an Internet-based network, called the EPC Network, thats designed to serve as a standards-based platform for RFID services.
The root ONS directory is already up and running, and VeriSign officials said managing the RFID system is not much different from managing the DNS root servers.
"Its almost exactly analogous to the role we play in the DNS system," said Jon Brendsel, director of the EPC Network at VeriSign. "The main difference is that it wont be so much people as applications and devices accessing the directory."
Brendsel also said that the company is aware of concerns surrounding the privacy implications of RFID tags and tracking. Many consumer and privacy groups have raised questions about what companies plan to do with the data they compile about the location of RFID tags, which likely will be embedded in a variety of consumer goods soon.
"The DNS system doesnt contain data thats terribly proprietary. The same principle applies to ONS," Brendsel said. "Just because you know the location [of a tag] doesnt mean you have the right to access it. Our view is that the privacy concerns will have the same evolution as they did with DNS."
The companies did not disclose the terms of the contract.