Beijing Olympics: Going for the Gold with RFID

The scope of the Olympics is staggering, with so many moving parts that it would make even the most experienced event planner start wheezing with anxiety.

“During the Games next year, China will host 280,000 athletes, referees, journalists and other workers from more than 200 countries and regions… About five million overseas tourists and more than 120 million domestic travelers will visit Beijing in 2008 and seven million spectators will watch the games at the venues, according to official statistics,” reads a statement from the official Bejing Olympics website.

Not only do the Olympic coordinators need to create game schedules and make sure media coverage is flawless, but they also need to protect against counterfeit tickets, arrange food and beverage transportation, and even ensure the safety of food for athletes by tracking the path from farm to plate.

No problem, according to the RFID vendors who are creating over 12 million RFID-enabled tickets, and systems that protect the production, processing, and transport of food and beverage products to coaches and athletes.

Over the last five years, interest has spiked in the technology, but the Olympics’ use of RFID will be somewhat different from other large-scale projects, according to Dan Mullen, president of AIM Global, the worldwide industry association for automatic identification and mobility.

“We’ve seen RFID in a variety of places where it’s found incredible value, but many of those were in closed systems, in a controlled environment, such as toll roads, or access control and security,” Mullen says.

The food and beverage tracking will be along these lines, but the ticketing is a broader, bolder step forward. ASK TongFang, a joint venture between French and Chinese companies, manufactured contactless inlays for 12.2 million tickets, including gate readers, software, and service.

The tickets are based on ASK’s technology, which uses silver ink-printed antenna and flip chip die attach, according to a recent ASK release. The tags are manufactured at a plant near Beijing. As part of the implementation, nearly 1,000 terminal devices will be installed to verify authenticity.

Anti-counterfeiting printed security features are being provided by China Bank Note, for yet another level of protection.

The effort is an example of the ongoing collaboration that’s been happening in the RFID space for years, notes Mike Liard, research director for RFID & Contactless technology at ABI Research. Numerous vendors are needed for the Olympic effort, and Liard anticipates that further alliances will be made after the games are over.

“As the RFID footprint expands, the collaboration has been pronounced,” Liard says. “There are many partnerships that are being created by companies in different parts of the world, such as between European vendors and Chinese vendors. The main focus is on creating end-to-end solutions for customers.”