Radio ID tags need not mean 'big bang' for IT: specialist

The adoption of radio-based identification labels on goods need not mean immediate big changes for back-end IT, says a label standard specialist.

With standards in place, software and reader manufacturers should be able to supply a plug-in application program interface, which will enable point-of-sale and logistics applications to work with radio-frequency identification (RFID) labels - a tiny chip with attached antenna - unchanged from the way they worked with barcodes and other older identification methods.

So says Chris Hook, visiting US-based director of the Gtag RFID program for standards organisation the Electronic Article Numbering/Uniform Code Council, who notes that digital messages can be in the same format.

Back-end systems will usually be required to change over time as the user organisation seeks to take advantage of some of the additional functionality of RFID, but an evolutionary rather than a "big-bang" approach is possible. "And I think that makes more sense."

International standards will mean the use of RFID becomes possible in supply chains extending internationally, and will enable equipment vendors to produce readers capable of reading a tag from anywhere.

Compared with barcode, magstripe card and similar technologies, RFID markers enable non-contact scanning, at a distance of anything from a few centimetres to metres, speeding the scanning of goods, or even vehicles and people. Higher data-flow rates between the ID marker and the scanner and two-way data-flow mean more complex information can be exchanged, and data planted in the marker on the item to indicate, for example, progress through a supply chain.

A library system created by 3M, for example, will record issue and return of books electronically and enable inventories to be rapidly conducted.

Work on an internationally approved standard for RFID in variants suitable for a variety of applications and environments is nearing completion, Hook says. From New Zealand he was going to an International Standards Organisation meeting in Tokyo to push the standard (ISO 18000) further. It has reached "committee draft stage" - about 95 per cent of the way to a fully ratified ISO standard, which at the usual rate for this kind of international deliberation should be finalised by early next year.

ISO 18000 covers RFID for "inanimate goods" but is adaptable to personal and animal identification.

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