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Loyal To RFID

Sprint has developed applications that use RFID-enabled loyalty cards that can identify customers and provide customized offers and services.
Sprint has developed two radio-frequency identification applications based on customer-loyalty cards. The company that carries data and voice over networks is debuting them at this week's Retail Systems 2004 trade show in Chicago.

The applications use an RFID-enabled loyalty card that can identify a customer as he or she walks through a store. The chip in the loyalty card transmits to a nearby reader when the customer is within 8 feet of the reader, triggering an avatar to appear on a nearby computer screen. The RFID reader identifies the information in the loyalty card and feeds the data to the avatar, which welcomes the customer to the store in an animated fashion.

Based on the customer's historical purchases, the computer will send a Short Message Service message with store coupons to the Sprint phone. The avatar is created with software from Haptek Inc. The application uses a patch antenna similar to those used in a Wi-Fi deployment, says Ben Parker, technical staff member at Sprint. "Hospitality is another vertical market where this application has use," he says. "People could check into the hotel using a kiosk. The avatar pops up to offer additional services and provides you with coupons that you can use upon checkout."

Sprint introduced another application that transforms the cellular phone into a kiosk. The RFID loyalty card, for example, could give the customer an advanced screening of music by streaming audio files to a customer's phone. The customer then can purchase the music from the phone using a mobile financial infrastructure.

For now, the services remain available only to Sprint customers, but the carrier has yet to snag any for these applications. Parker says there are emerging SMS and multimedia standards that will enable customers to cross cellular wireless carriers using these types of applications, but the industry isn't quite there. He's expecting the standards to be implemented later this year, and says, "At the end of the year, look for carrier relationships to emerge."

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