UPDATE: Next-Generation RFID Standard Is Approved

EPCglobal gives the nod to the long-awaited Gen 2 RFID specifications, and a slew of vendors are readying products for the new year.
EPCglobal Inc. gave industry executives a much-anticipated holiday gift Thursday evening when the nonprofit organization chartered to drive standards for radio-frequency identification technology reported that its 15-member board has approved the royalty-free EPCglobal UHF Generation 2 specification.

The decision marks a milestone for the industry group that's overseen development of a standard based on consensus from more than 60 technology companies and government agencies worldwide. The UHF Generation 2 standard will provide a platform on which products and future improvements are built. "The process was tough, but it forced many productive discussions and in the end everyone wanted a converged standard that users know is interoperable," says Mike Meranda, president of EPCglobal U.S.

The new standard will serve as the foundation for the continued build-out of the EPCglobal Network that combines RFID technology, the Internet, and electronic product codes to provide cost-efficient and accurate information throughout supply chains. "Once the Gen 2 standard is out and spurs innovation, I'm sure there will be updates to the specifications in 2005," Meranda says. "There's already interest from EPCglobal's health-care action group to build a 1356 high-frequency standard."

The specifications are heralded as the first UHF RFID open architecture designed by a committee. Supply-chain benefits dependent on Gen 2 are global interoperability, international vendor support, multiple read and write capabilities that could potentially change the economic climate by delivering a quicker return on investment, and increased data-communication speeds at more than double the tags available today.

The read-rate for Gen 2 tags in the United States under a simulated environment is 1,500 per second, versus roughly 100 tags per second for tags available today. That rate, however, drops to between 500 and 600 tags per second in Europe because U.S. regulations allow for wider frequency bandwidth. "The wider the pipe, the more information you can pump through it," says Tony Sabetti, director of retail supply chain at TI-RFid Systems, which is poised to launch new products based on the Gen 2 standard. Impinj Inc., a semiconductor company, recently reported that it, too, is readying a product line, available in the second quarter of next year, based on Gen 2.

In fact, a slew of companies, from tag to reader to printer vendors, are preparing for product releases in the first half of next year, now that the specifications have been approved. Philips Semiconductors began manufacturing silicon wafers for Generation 2 tags earlier this month and plans to release the first samples before the end of March under the product family Philips Semiconductor U-Code EPC G2, says Manuel Albers, director of business development for identification products at Philips.

SAMSys Technologies Inc. plans to introduce a reader with a firmware upgrade that handles the new specification, and it's also working to redesign its products to handle the dense reader mode and other features Gen 2 will offer. RFID hardware will encounter restrictions that will prompt reader vendors to rethink their product designs. "Every company manufacturing readers will face that same challenge because Gen 2 specifications were written to offer advanced features, but the hardware today cannot accommodate all of them and support legacy protocols such as Class 0 and Class 1 tags," says Cliff Horwitz, SAMSys' chairman and CEO.

Intermec Technologies Inc. begs to differ, insisting the UHF Generation 2 RFID reader it demonstrated to EPCglobal meets all functionality requirements. It uses a firmware upgrade to its model IF5 Intellitag RFID reader. The product is certified by the FCC and the European Telecommunication Standards Institute. Zebra Technologies Corp. reported in November it would offer a free upgrade path to support Gen 2 tags for two of its UHF EPC multiprotocol printer/encoders, the Zebra R110Xi and R170Xi.

EPCglobal has worked through 2004 to pave the way for ratification of the UHF RFID Gen 2 standard by driving regulatory agencies--from the European Telecommunication Standards Institute to Japan's Ministry Post and Telecom--to open bandwidth in the UHF spectrum so RFID can operate seamlessly through supply chains across continents.

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