by Thomas Wailgum

In Search Of A Standard

Nov 15, 2004 2 mins

Wal-Mart suppliers are still waiting for the next generation of standardized tags.

Mike O’Shea, Kimberly-Clark’s director of RFID strategies, and others with worldwide supply chain operations are desperate for a global RFID standard.

Due to various radio frequency spectrum issues and bandwidth constraints, the wait is still on for a commercially available RFID tag that will work across continents. “We’re all looking forward to a global tag,” O’Shea says. “There’s one for the United States, but it’s different in Europe, and it’s different in Asia too.”

The next generation of tags, called Gen 2, is supposedly going to unite worldwide RFID operations. Right now, Wal-Mart has said it will accept EPC Version 1, Class 0 and Class 1 tags from its suppliers on the Jan. 1, 2005, deadline for the first phase of RFID implementation.

EPCglobal is the organization entrusted with making sure that electronic product code (EPC) eventually becomes the global RFID standard. It is a joint venture of the Uniform Code Council and EAN International, which are the standards administrators for bar codes. EPCglobal has more than 200 member companies, including most of Wal-Mart’s top 100 suppliers. There are also industry-specific action groups, made up of representatives from those 200 or so members, that work on making sure the technical specifications jibe with the retail industry’s real-world needs.

Gen 2, which everyone is buzzing about, isn’t scheduled to be ratified by the EPC board of governors until the fourth quarter of 2004. “It’s incredibly difficult to predict,” says Kevin Ashton, who was cofounder of MIT’s Auto-ID Center and is now vice president of marketing for ThingMagic, a maker of RFID readers. “It’s a gruesome political game,” largely because each vendor has its own standard and wants that standard to be the global rule of thumb, he says.

If and when one standard is adopted, it’s anyone’s guess when commercial products will be available, says Ashton. “Some say commercially available in the first quarter of 2005. Others claim in the first quarter of 2006. We’ll all just have to wait and see,” he adds.