Saudi Post ready for the day of the RFID

Saudi Post’s home delivery plans will be underpinned by one of the largest radio frequency identification (RFID) projects in the world, according to sources.

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By  Neil Denslow Published  September 3, 2005

Saudi Post’s home delivery plans will be underpinned by one of the largest radio frequency identification (RFID) projects in the world, according to sources. The national postal carrier is understood to be planning to install millions of RFID-enabled post-boxes across the Kingdom as part of a US$270million project to support its new home delivery service, Wasel. The Wasel project, a key step in Saudi Post’s efforts to transform itself prior to privatisation, will eliminate the need for customers to collect mail from post offices, as the postal service will deliver and collect mail from their homes instead. The Kingdom is being divided into eight postal regions, with each region further sub-divided into different-sized zones, depending on density of population. The post-boxes will also be fitted with RFID chips, which will allow postal staff to check by using handheld devices that they have the right post-box. An RFID-enabled chip embedded in the mail box alerts the postman when he is in the vicinity of an addressee. The postboxes will be sourced, programmed and installed by private contractors. Hala Supply Chain Services has won three of these tenders, and it will also be providing know-how and resources to one of the vendors operating in a fourth area. “We have been told that we have to complete the installation of 1.2 million boxes in 10 months,” said Husam Al-Saleh, general manager, Hala Supply Chain Services. The implementation work in the first region, Riyadh, which is not being handled by Hala, has already begun. The next area to be covered will be Makkah, followed by the Eastern Region, which Hala will operate in, and then the other provinces. In sourcing and designing the postboxes, one of the biggest challenges was the fact that the metal casing of the box would interfere with the signal from the RFID tag. To get round this problem, Hala has designed its Chinese-made postboxes to include a 6mm deep indentation in the front of the box. The RFID tag will then be placed inside this slot, in a 5 mm thick plastic casing, which will then be covered with the Saudi Post logo. “The tricky part with the RFID is the metal box, as you cannot stick the RFID tag inside it, as you cannot read it,” Al-Saleh explained. “So it is going to be encapsulated in plastic to separate it [from the metal].” Other RFID vendors who are working on the project declined to comment when approached by IT Weekly. The scale of the Saudi Post implementation dwarfs any other RFID project undertaken in the region so far. The technology is starting to be widely used in other parts of the world, with large retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Tesco and Metro, as well as the US Department of Defense, mandating the use of tags. However, in the Middle East, there has been limited uptake in technology so far, with only a few major projects being launched. Examples include the baggage handling system at Dubai International Airport and a trial project currently being undertaken by DHL to track items at parcel level (see IT Weekly 21 – 27 May 2005).

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