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RFID Won't Replace Bar Codes

11:45 AM -- There’s a popular saying going around, still, that RFID will not only augment, but in fact replace bar codes. Sure, the adherents to this position say, it won’t happen right way, but it will eventually. I, however, don’t think the timing is an issue here: RFID will not replace bar codes -- ever.

Why? Because RFID tags will never be as cheap as bar codes. Bar codes are made out of paper and ink. RFID -- even the very inexpensive passive tags -- are made, at least, out of copper. Copper costs more -- a lot more -- than paper and ink, and likely always will. Indeed, the price of copper has risen more than 4.5 times over the past three years. So it stands to reason that unless we can dramatically reduce the cost of passive tags, bar codes will have a long and happy life. My money’s on the paper and ink.

There are other advantages to bar codes. The reading process is line-of-sight; it’s hard to read the wrong bar code. Today’s bar codes are very reliable. And they are universally accepted in many industries, most notably retail. RFID tags may or may not be read properly as they race by a reader. Radio propagation being what it is, some degree of error needs to be accepted as inherent in the technology. But far be it from me to criticize wireless in these pages. After all, most bar-code scanners use a wireless-LAN radio for their connectivity. It’s just that WiFi is far more robust than a passive RFID tag.

RFID will continue to grow in importance, but it’s not going to replace good old paper and ink any time soon. Sorry; I mean, ever.

— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung

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