A year from now, shoppers could be using their mobile phones to access rich radio-frequency identification data on consumer products sold in retail stores.
VeriSign Inc., a provider of infrastructure services for the Internet and telecommunications networks, has teamed up with mobile phone maker Nokia Corp. to deliver mobile phones that can be used in conjunction with electronic product codes (EPCs), and to develop applications that will extend RFID beyond the supply chain.
In March, Nokia introduced the Nokia RFID Kit, a Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) phone with RFID reading capability. The kit includes the Nokia 5140 phone that initiates tasks when touching a smart object and transmits 13.56-MHz signals, which support International Standards Organization (ISO) standards.
Today, the Nokia 5140 is geared toward supply chain functions, but several years from now Nokia is planning to give consumers a way of gaining information from individually tagged products on shelves using the phone, says Gerhard Romen, head of global market development at the Nokia Ventures Organization.
Nokia partnered with VeriSign a year ago to begin tailoring the RFID phone to the consumer market. Taking RFID outside a company's walls and creating value for the supply chain requires a standardized way of uniquely identifying items within the supply chain, which can be achieved through EPCs, says Shawn Molodow, director of business development for VeriSign's Naming and Directory Services. EPCs are the next generation of universal product codes used in bar codes. Unlike bar codes, EPCs can identify a product's manufacturer, product class, and serial number at the item level.
Delivering product information to mobile phones using EPCs is an opportunity for retailers and manufacturers to extend RFID beyond the supply chain and into customer service, merchandising, marketing, and brand management, Molodow says. But it can also benefit consumers, he says.
For example, the phones can be used for one-touch warranty registration at stores like Best Buy and to get product information, coupons, and promotions. In addition, people allergic to certain foods can use the VeriSign-enabled Nokia phones to "scan" a shelf sign to find out a product's ingredients. "When you come to the shelf, say you're interested in cosmetics, but you have certain allergies, you touch the phone to the shelf and it gives you information on what the item is made from. So, people who have allergies can monitor the products they use," says Romen.
VeriSign manages the EPC codes and operates the EPC Network on behalf of EPCglobal Inc., a joint venture between EAN International and the Uniform Code Council that develops EPC standards. The EPC Network is made up of the Object Naming Service, the EPC Information Services, and the EPC Discovery Service, and each one enables the sharing of detailed, real-time product information. The goal is to have Nokia's RFID-enabled phone read the EPCs in tags on store shelves and connect them with VeriSign's Object Naming Service through the phone's Internet browser, says Romen.
RFID technology is primarily designed for distribution, but what makes VeriSign and Nokia's initiative unique is the fact that they're focused on bringing RFID to consumers, says Molodow. "VeriSign, as a leading provider of Internet infrastructure, and Nokia, as a leading mobile solution provider, are working closely together to develop the market and ecosystem for consumer-based RFID solutions," he says.
Although the technology already exists, Nokia and VeriSign have yet to recruit developers and third-party vendors to create applications that would enable the collaboration between retailers, manufacturers, and consumers. At last week's CTIA Wireless conference in San Francisco, VeriSign demonstrated how Nokia phones can be used in conjunction with EPCs, and Molodow says fully operational phones will be available to enterprises in the next 6 to12 months and to consumers in 12 to 18 months.