RFID: What You Need To Know

April 1, 2004
By Rod Harrison, Cornerstone Solutions RFID Challenges Effective read/write ranges of readers; Reading large objects whose tag may be positioned on opposite

By Rod Harrison, Cornerstone Solutions

RFID Challenges

• Effective read/write ranges of readers;

• Reading large objects whose tag may be positioned on opposite side.;

• Proximity -- distinguish specific object from other objects on either side;

• Reading mixed-case pallets fast enough and accurately;

• Material of the object or around the object (metal, liquid) can affect readability;

• Currently 20%-30% error rate in reading tags.

Proprietary standards

There are actually hundreds of standards related to RFID being developed or modified by scores of national and international standards bodies. Examples include the format and content of the codes placed on the tags, the protocols and frequencies that will be used by the tags and readers to transmit the data, the security and tamper-resistance of tags on packaging and freight containers, and applications use standards. Until these standards are finalized, there will be a risk of non-compliance associated with any solution implemented.

Wal-Mart -- supports EPC.

DOD -- wants to support EPC but using ISO standard for air interface.


Although the costs for tags and readers continue to come down, implementing an RFID solution is still an expensive venture. AMR Research estimates that a typical consumer goods company shipping 50 million cases per year will spend $13 million to $23 million to deploy RFID to meet Wal-Mart's requirements.

Besides the cost of the tags for every pallet, case or item to be tracked, there are the costs of the readers at every identification point, the software development and implementation costs for use of the information, and the supporting infrastructure costs. The biggest risk at this time, however, is that a company will incur these substantial costs only to find out that the solution deployed does not meet future standards or that the technology or vendor used for the deployment has not survived the inevitable shakeout of early contenders in this emerging field. To protect against this possibility, companies should select technologies and vendors that are adaptable to emerging standards and protocols.


There has already been significant backlash from consumers over announcements by Wal-Mart, Gillette and Bennetton that they would use item-level RFID tagging. All three companies have had to pull back from these initiatives as a result. Privacy has always been a strong American value and concerns over the perceived invasion of privacy these announcements incited, whether justified or not, is a factor that must be considered in any RFID rollout.

About the author: Rod Harrison, Cornerstone Solutions, can be reached at 260-496-8259.

Recent articles:

Defense Department Scales Down RFID Plan; http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/cmp/20031209/tc_cmp/16600185

Defense Dept. working to resolve RFID standards issue; http://www.computerworld.com/softwaretopics/erp/story/0,10801,87808,00.html

Wal-Mart to begin phased RFID tag rollout next year; http://www.computing.co.uk/News/1148506.html

Wal-Mart's RFID Deadline: A Chunky Mess; http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,4149,1414163,00.asp

AmEx Expands RFID Payment Trial; http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/articleview/505/1/1/.html

Military's RFID Alternative: IPv6; http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/view/609.html

RFID is big but nobody understands the costs; http://www.usingrfid.com/news/read.asp?lc=k19752px58zu.html

Other articles in this series:

Part 1: The Basics

Part 2: The Frequencies

Part 3: The Standards

Part 4: The Challenges

Part 5: The Rollout