True to its name, standards organization EPCglobal Inc. (www. epcglobalus.org) is pushing forward on standards that will allow radio frequency identification (RFID) to continue to expand globally. To that end, EPCglobal has ratified the UHF Generation 2 specification, also known as Gen 2.
Thanks to efforts by major retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., standards for RFID technology using the ultra-high frequency (UHF) bands have moved forward quickly. While those standards are being coordinated with the International Standards Organization (ISO) to become truly global, other spectrum issues are being tackled.
"We picked up UHF as our starting point and we are going forward from there," says Sue Hutchinson, director of product management for EPCglobal.
Wal-Mart's leadership in using technology to improve its business is legendary, Hutchinson continues. The mass retailer's support of the UHF tag standards provided much of the impetus for EPCglobal to move quickly towards the Gen 2 standard.
But Hutchinson points out the current RFID standards aren't all about Wal-Mart. "We worked very hard to draw in participation from all over the world, as well as ensuring that when we worked with the end users' requirements, [the protocol] would work everywhere." Commercially available products based on Gen 2 are expected the first half of 2005.
Gen 2 isn't a protocol that's built for 915 MHz alone, or for the U.S. market, for that matter, Hutchinson explains. EPCglobal and the standards committees spent a lot of time making sure Gen 2 could meet regulatory conditions outside the U.S.
Coordination with end users was also important and represents a major part of the effort. In addition to issues like the proximity of readers in a dock situation — where a number of reader-equipped doors can be very close together — the real world of RFID also means thinking very globally, Hutchinson explains.
EPCglobal researched the power and bandwidth restrictions within the regions and countries that had declared what they were going to do with the UHF bands. It made sure that the protocol had enough flexibility built into it to be useful in different areas of the world in different parts of the frequency range. After all, the tags will be applied in one locale and read in another, and there could be spectrum and power restrictions in one of the locations. EPCglobal is currently working with ISO to move the various protocols it helped develop into global standards. The protocols have enough flexibility to allow readers to operate within the spectrum, even if portions of the band are already allocated for other radio services. That will help overcome some of the regional operating and license issues. It is also a firm foundation for ISO certification and for the move into other frequency bands.
Container security initiatives have focused attention on active tags operating in the 433 MHz band and Hutchinson says there is also quite a lot of interest and development taking place in other applications in the 13.56 MHz range. EPCglobal also has its eye on the expansion of RFID into other industry segments such as healthcare and life sciences. Pharmaceutical and medical device companies are moving forward to meet pedigree requirements that will be in place in 2006, and RFID is one technology that holds a lot of interest.