EPCglobal Inc., which hopes to speed RFID adoption in the enterprise in the coming year, expects to see the first fruits of its namesake network early next year as users start to exchange information over software and hardware built to EPC-standard specifications.
The EPCglobal Network combines radio-frequency identification technology, existing network infrastructure and EPCs (Electronic Product Codes). As EPCglobal develops standards for hardware and software, vendors will build the appropriate products that, eventually, will allow users to trade data about RFID-enabled items as they move along the supply chain.
The two specs ratified by EPCglobal that enable communication through the network are ALE (Application Level Events) and the UHF (ultrahigh frequency) Generation 2 interoperability hardware spec. Both were ratified last year.
UHF Gen 2, developed with input from 60 technology, manufacturing and retail companies, acts as a communication protocol between EPC tags and readers. It is the first chip and reader protocol that can be used globally, regardless of reader frequency or regional regulations, according to EPCglobal officials and industry analysts.
Infrastructure provider VeriSign Inc. is charged with setting up the network plumbing.
EPC IS, a component of the EPCglobal Network, will provide a central system of record for all EPC-related data. That system will also aggregate events from different technology platforms to allow users to collaborate on items as they move along the supply chain.
The EPCglobal Network concept was introduced last year as a means to keep track of and disseminate EPC data. Leveraging RFID data and Web services-based technologies, the network is intended to convey real-time data about RFID-tagged items as they move through the supply chain, EPCglobal officials said.
EPCglobal, which is an RFID standards-setting consortium based in Brussels, Belgium, comprises a group of not-for-profit supply chain partners working to drive adoption of the EPC Network and to define the standards necessary for global communication about goods.
The EPCglobal Network consists of EPCs, an ID system, EPC middleware, discovery services and EPC IS. EPCs are unique numbers that identify an item as it moves along the supply chain. The ID system includes EPC tags and readers, which can come from any number of vendors that are EPC-certified.
Likewise, EPC Middleware, which manages real-time read events, provides alerts and imports basic read data to the EPCglobal Network, can come from any number of middleware vendors.
Discovery Services is a suite of offerings that lets users find data relevant to a specific EPC item and then to request access to that data. EPC IS is the platform that lets users exchange data with trading partners through the EPCglobal Network.
"At this point, theres just not a lot of companies trading or shipping products that are tagged, to constitute their need to use the network. That was the reason the network hadnt been utilized," said Sarah Shah, an analyst with ABI Research, in New York. "VeriSign had assured me it had been set up; there just wasnt a lot of companies using it."