Understanding the Basics of EPCglobal

Companies interested in the standardization of RFID attend a pre-conference event to learn what EPCglobal is all about.

LOS ANGELES—About 200 people left home a day early to attended a pre-conference event held here in the western wing of the LA Convention Center on Oct. 11 with one goal in mind: figure out what EPCglobal is all about.

Questions from audience members were so basic that attendees likely could have gone to the FAQ section of EPCglobals Web site for answers.

Is EPCglobals content available to non-subscribers? (About 65 to 70 percent of it is.) How much does it cost to join EPCglobal? (Fees are on a sliding scale based on a companys revenue.) Does EPCglobal have a presence in Asia? (It will work on a country-by-country basis to establish relationships.)

EPCglobal is essentially a standard-setting organization whose mission is to "reduce the risks and costs of implementing RFID through a portfolio of high-value subscriber offerings," according to the manual handed out at the door of EPC Essentials event.

The organization itself is really a joint venture between GS1 (formerly known as EAN International) and GS1 US (formerly known as the Uniform Council Code).

The GS organizations are in a good position to try and standardize around RFID globally, since GS1 created the ubiquitous UPC bar code system.

The goal of EPCglobal is pretty big: to achieve world-wide adoption and standardization of its EPC (Electronic Product Code) technology that provides a unique identifier to items—be they individual, cases or pallets of goods—that can be read by an RFID tag and reader.

The resulting information is transferred, via the Internet, to the EPCglobal Network, a directory service where all that tag data is sussed out and routed to the appropriate parties for full automation along the supply chain—theoretically a repeating loop from supplier to manufacturer to retailer to consumer.

The EPCglobal community includes a dozen major industries—retail, consumer goods, food and beverage, healthcare and life sciences, electronics and high tech, logistics and transportation—in 51 different industry segments.

/zimages/5/28571.gifHewlett-Packard offers RFID to track data center assets. Click here to read more.

It has 3,000 participants from over 800 companies, and 441 users. A little more than 350 hardware and software vendors also participate in the organization, standardizing their hardware and software products on EPCglobal specifications.

To date, EPCglobal has ratified five standards: The EPC Tag Data Standard that identifies specific encoding schemas; a Tag Data Translation Standard that contains details of the structure and elements of machine-readable mark-up files and how it might be used in translation or validation software; an Application Level Event standard that specifies an interface where clients can obtain EPC data from different sources; and an Object Naming Service standard that specifies how the Domain Name Server System is used to locate automatic metadata and services associated with a given EPC number.

But EPCglobal is probably best known for the ratification in 2004 of its Class 1 Generation 2 UHF Air Interface Protocol, better known as Gen 2, that addresses the logistical requirements for passive tags and readers and enables pallet, case and item tagging.

Next Page: The case for RFID.