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Radio Frequency Identification Technologies: A Workshop Summary
Throughout the discussion of business needs and applications for RFID technologies, workshop participants noted several persistent technical and policy challenges. At a general level, the stability of the technology and the associated standards will be significant factors influencing the business case regarding RFID. In addition, the Wal-Mart, Department of Defense, and other mandates will have an impact on who uses this technology as well as on how it is used. Participants suggested that making the business case for companies not heavily influenced by those huge organizations will be critical if the technology is to see broader deployment. Some smaller companies may look to RFID as a way to move past (or skip) the use of bar codes, but much affecting whether this might be possible is still at a very experimental stage. Other drivers of regulatory change aside from Department of Defense requirements include those of various governments to provide country-of-origin food labeling, pharmaceutical tracking, other asset tracking, and techniques to prevent counterfeiting. The Department of Homeland Security is also taking an interest in using RFID technologies to secure shipping containers against tampering. Interestingly, depending on the requirements from any of these organizations, active tags may be more likely to be subject to regulation than passive tags.
Although some press accounts would seem to suggest that RFID technology is very simple, in fact there are complications that make large-scale deployments a challenge. For example, choosing where to place the tags on an item is a serious issue for some applications. Most tags cannot be read through liquid or on cans. In addition, while the tags are relatively inexpensive, readers are not. Database and infrastructure requirements also add to the cost of implementation. Typically, it was noted, RFID technology costs can be thought of as roughly evenly divisible between software, hardware, and systems integration. Some workshop participants suggested that the business case has not justified the cost of the technology in many arenas and that experiments with RFID systems are still in their infancy.