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RFID users on the same wavelength

Recent approval of the standards for frequency ranges available in Europe and the long-awaited EPC Class 1, Generation 2 UHF operating standard should herald rapid RFID adoption, believes Andrew Osborne, chief technical officer at the e.centre

Things are running nicely to schedule in the standards world for RFID. Recently, the European standards for the use of radio frequency identification [RFID] at Ultra High Frequency [UHF] were amended. Meanwhile the EPCglobal standards for RFID tags used in supply chains are making good progress, with the Class 1, Generation 2 standard having been ratified by EPCglobal Inc, the body entrusted with driving global adoption of Electronic Product Code technology, on December 17.

The changes to the Europe-wide standards for UHF were adopted by the Working Group for Frequency Management, part of the European Radiocommunications Office, in December, meaning European firms can now closely emulate US reader systems, which are allowed to be more powerful.

e.centre, a long-time proponent of open standards and UK provider of the EPCglobal Network, believes this will contribute significantly to the drive for interoperability. The development will kick-start the use of the only global standards for RFID, the EPCglobal Network, in supply chain operations between trading partners regardless of where they are in the world.

The new recommendation is a revision to Annex 11 of ECC Rec 70-03, covering frequency bands, regulatory and informative parameters for RFID applications. Approval of the amendments follows agreement by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, and means RFID equipment working to the new standard can be used in those member states that adopt the recommendation. It is an admirable example of the co-operation between the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, which advises telecommunications regulators and industry, in this case EPCglobal and its parent EAN International, who have been advocating the need for legislative changes to enable RFID to be used in supply chain management.

The agreement is the signal for national regulators across Europe to change their local legislation and enable RFID at higher power across more of the UHF bandwidth. Compliance with the new regulations will allow companies to use RFID in the UHF band without having to obtain special licences, and allow suppliers to market compliant UHF tags and readers suited to supply chain management in the EU.

The creation of Generation 2 of the EPCglobal UHF standard has been being carried out via an extensive collaborative exercise involving many solution provider and user companies. The technical development starts from users’ business requirements, which have been gathered from supply chain practitioners worldwide.

Of the frequency ranges available for RFID, UHF is the best for logistics as it provides good range and data transfer rates while enabling suitable tag sizes. A feature of UHF tags is that they can respond effectively, even if their readers do not work at precisely the same frequency.

Tags compliant with EPCglobal’s UHF generation 2 standards will work with readers operating between 860MHz and 960MHz so that they can be used under the various regulations around the world, for example 915MHz in North America, 867MHz in Europe and prospectively 950MHz in Japan. This means international interoperability: an absolute requirement for inter-company logistics in global supply chains.

The generation 2 specification will be more comprehensive than generation 1, providing RFID chip manufacturers with all the parameters to build compliant products. It will enable compliance tests to be designed and implemented so that certification gives users confidence that tags from different suppliers will be interoperable.

Compared to the first generation, the new specifications provide more efficient operation and additional features. Faster read rates will be possible and greater efficiency across the air interface will mean better use of the bandwidth, which should enable better operation under the European regulations. Generation 2 also provides added security, such as password protection, and the so-called ‘kill’ function that gives the opportunity for consumers to have tags disabled after they have bought tagged merchandise.

Once agreed, the specifications will be submitted to the International Organisation for Standardisation so that the standard will have even broader recognition.

The UHF Generation 2 standard will accelerate the creation, adoption and implementation of more products based upon EPCglobal standards to comply with industry mandates, helping drive down the prices of the fundamental components of an EPC-enabled supply chain.

RFID and barcode scanning will co-exist for some time. The EPCglobal standard is designed to ensure compatibility between the two. With the components of the standard falling into place, RFID is now set to become a serious partner to barcodes in supply chain management.