RFID's Time Has Come

Sometimes a new technology spreads like wildfire, sweeping away resistance, and competitors, before it – think of the iPod. And sometimes a new product meets market resistance and unexpected technical or social obstacles that delay its onset. Say hello to RFID.

Much of the initial consumer-activist furor over radio-frequency ID tags has died down, as it's become apparent that retailers and shippers are not interested in tracking people but in improving efficiencies and streamlining supply chains, which ultimately benefits us all.

But RFID has encountered other unexpected hurdles in its spread, from manufacturer resistance to signal interference to a lack of skilled technicians qualified to work with the technology. According to industry group CompTIA, 75 percent of technology companies responding to a recent survey do not believe a sufficient pool of talent exists in RFID technology to support widespread use of the technology.

Nonetheless, the power of this simple concept – radio signal-emitting tags on products from automobiles to computer gear – is such that it continues to proliferate, in ways not always obvious to casual business observers. Just a few examples emerging this week from the RFID World conference in Dallas:

  • HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) is equipping printers made at its Sao Paulo, Brazil, factory with smart "Gen 2" RFID tags, tracking the units through production and distribution to customers throughout South America.

  • Kimberly-Clark, an early adopter of RFID, will also use Gen 2 RFID labels on shipments to Wal-Mart and other retailers equipped to use RFID technology.

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) this morning said it plans a series of moves in the RFID market, including an upgrade to its WebSphere Premises Server software and a new asset tracking application comprising tags and readers as well as servers and tracking software that will allow enterprises to customize RFID projects. The company is also opening an RFID test center in Dublin.
Fueled by the advent of second-generation RFID tags, based on a specification approved by the industry organization EPCglobal Inc., these announcements add up to a groundswell of support for and adoption of the technology that hasn't been evident until recently. Many companies will remain holdouts – but manufacturers, shippers, and retailers do so at their peril. The RFID era is upon us.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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