Gotcha! Installing a Radio Frequency Identification System

By Sean Gallagher  |  Posted 2002-12-01 Print this article Print

The biggest expense in implementing radio frequency identification (RFID) systems might not be the transponders and receivers.

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? The biggest expense in implementing radio frequency identification (RFID) systems might not be the transponders and receivers

The biggest expense may well be the cost to beef up your data so that applications can take advantage of the wireless technology.

In a warehouse, you may have to add fields to record the timing of various events and associated location information for all products that come in. This starts with what pallet an item is on and the time and location that the pallet was last scanned by an RFID reader, for instance.

In a store such as Prada's, you may have to create new ways not of tracking goods, but of linking different types of goods and accessories together. The data has to be set up to support "up-selling."

"This is bigger than Y2K," says Peter Abell of AMR Research, in reference to the massive database updates needed in the late '90s to ensure that programs would continue to operate in the new millennium. "That's because of new data elements—you're not just checking for two-digit years in data," he says. Now, for every place a company has a Universal Product Code in its database, it will need a location, a time and a block of serial numbers.

? Integration is in its infancy

While there are some tools available to integrate radio systems into enterprise applications, they are just frameworks. You'll need a good deal of custom development to connect the readers that track radio tags to the databases that underlie your inventory and sales systems.

? You'll need to check your physics books

"The laws of physics are bound to take over with [radio frequency] technology applications," says Bill Allen, e-marketing manager for the Texas Instruments' RFID group. "Metallic environments disturb, and in some case, destroy a radio frequency field." Translation: Steel buildings can be a hazard. Recognize that, during deployment, antennas may need to be moved, readers may need to be finely tuned and equipment that generates interference may need to be shielded.

? The equipment can be costly

Low-cost "disposable" tags cost around 30 to 40 cents each, and radio frequency readers cost about $500 each in volume, according to Abell. That's not a problem for applications that track "high value, high margin" goods like the clothes Prada sells, but it's still too expensive for moving and tracking low-cost stuff. But, Abell says, by 2006 tags should sell in volume for about a nickel apiece and readers will drop to $100.

? This is not a standard technology

While there are efforts to standardize radio tags, current systems from different makers aren't compatible. That may change over the next two years.

Sean Gallagher is editor of Ziff Davis Internet's enterprise verticals group. Previously, Gallagher was technology editor for Baseline, before joining Ziff Davis, he was editorial director of Fawcette Technical Publications' enterprise developer publications group, and the Labs managing editor of CMP's InformationWeek. A former naval officer and former systems integrator, Gallagher lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland.

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