IoT Gives RFID New Life
WAY BACK IN 2003, Walmart’s announcement requiring suppliers to use RFID technology seemed to herald the death of the barcode and the reign of the RFID tag. A glance around your workplace today will show you that never happened, but the rise of IoT is opening a new chapter in the RFID story.
Radio frequency identification allows data storage on devices ranging in size from a postage stamp to a key fob. The two types, active and passive, can potentially turn anything they’re affixed to into a connected IoT point, but their capabilities differ.
Active RFID tags come in various shapes to accommodate a battery that lets the device emit signals as far as 1,500 feet away. Common uses include sensing temperature, humidity, and room occupancy.
By contrast, passive labels convey signals up to 30 feet away and cost pennies on the dollar compared with active RFID. They’re more likely to transmit data from electronics kiosks, laundry operations, warehouses, and other settings, and their low price point makes them scalable enough to connect “billions of objects” to IoT infrastructure, says Sandy Murti, vice president of partner development at Impinj, a provider of RFID solutions.
Best (Use) Case Scenarios
Murti suggests RFID for channel pros looking to grow their footprint within IoT. Better algorithms are making the data that labels generate more useful and accessible without the need for specialized knowledge, and adoption is growing in a handful of verticals where MSPs might already be working:
- Hospitals are by far the fastest growing group. About 20% to 25% of hospitals use active and passive RFID, and a typical hospital has 140 potential uses to track anyone or anything that moves or has high value, says Rom Eizenberg, vice president of global sales for HID, a provider of trusted identity solutions.
- Retail is the classic use case for passive RFID. Murti says the technology similarly suits supply chain logistics and businesses handling thousands of small items that are densely stored or processed.
- Manufacturing environments pursuing digital transformation are deploying more IoT solutions and relying on active and passive RFID to pull data from machines and track assets, says Eizenberg.
- Airports rely on active and passive RFID to understand how people move around and to add perks like showing customers how long it will take to reach their gate from where they are.
- Oil and gas has been slow to adopt, but increasingly uses active RFID to monitor high-value assets and track people as part of safety protocols, says Eizenberg.
Finding the Sale
Discerning which RFID solutions best fit your portfolio starts with one question: volume or value? Passive RFID is useful for customers dealing with lots of merchandise or parts, while active suits tagged items (or the data they generate) that are highly valuable.
Eizenberg notes that active tags make up only a fraction of HID’s RFID sales, but they generate more value and an exponentially larger share of the profits. “Tagging a carton of milk creates a lot less value than tagging people and allowing them in and out of a building,” says Eizenberg.
It’s important to study which environments and scenarios apply best. Also, stay up to date as range, reliability, data storage, and other capabilities grow. Murti says eager channel pros sometimes exaggerate RFID’s potential, by suggesting it could replace systems like GPS, for example.
However, the infrastructure can easily expand in the right places, says Eizenberg. For instance, airports could add RFID tags to ensure sufficient TSA officers at each gate or ample stock at the duty-free shops.
While a lack of standards to date has thwarted wider adoption, Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology, used ubiquitously in consumer products, is gaining ground compared with other RFID wireless protocols, and could improve compatibility with existing technologies, says Eizenberg. Its adoption might be the development that finally makes RFID as popular and profitable as everyone had hoped.
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