Sandtracker non-commital on cheap RFID tags’ future

RFID prices falling internationally but NZ tag company won't comment on its current progress

At a time when the price of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags is falling internationally — a price of US$1c per tag has been cited — the New Zealand company producing an alternative economical tag has gone quiet.

Sandtracker’s chief executive, Ant Dixon, declined to comment on the current status of the company’s technology, or its finances, pending its annual general meeting, which is scheduled for mid-September.

In 2004, Sandtracker, which uses simpler, diode-based technology, claimed to have “cracked the US$5c-a-tag barrier”. However, a rigorous trial of its tags, in late 2005, conducted at Australia’s University of Adelaide, uncovered reliability problems. Sandtracker then revisited the technology and has since been gradually increasing the number of bits stored on a tag while maintaining strict reliability parameters.

Despite this progress, Dixon last month declined to go into detail about current progress. “There is some positive news” is all he would say. But he would not release this information until after this month’s AGM, he said.

BEA’s RFID specialist, Laxman Bhatia, interviewed earlier this year in Sydney, said the cost of a simple “passive” tag (read-only with no transmission capability until scanned) is now down to US$1c.

Former director Jan Hilder declined to comment specifically, but agreed the adoption of RFID by large retailers and US government agencies has forced the price of tags down. She declined to say whether she thinks Sandtracker’s technology is still competitive.

Hilder says the New Zealand Government is interested in RFID — to trace traded goods so as to be assured of their provenance.

For example, there is a lot more “New Zealand wool” sold in China alone than is exported from this country to the whole of the world, says Hilder. The need for assurance of country of origin is important for the New Zealand “brand”, and RFID tagging is an obvious tool that could be used here.

However, Computerworld inquiries regarding this proved fruitless. NZ Trade and Enterprise, the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Customs all drew a blank.

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