Out of range

RFID - is it really destined for mass adoption, or is it just another example of a technology that has been promoted beyond its usefulness? Barry Mansfield looks into the future of the technology in the region.

  • E-Mail
By  Barry Mansfield Published  November 1, 2007

RFID, or Radio Frequency Identification, rapidly became the buzzword of the 21st century's first decade. It has been described as "the oldest new technology in the world" - it may have been receiving a lot of media attention these past years, but it was actually developed in the 1940s. The recent interest is primarily from large manufacturers and other supply chain oriented enterprises which are continually looking for technologies that can boost their productivity.

The ultimate objective for retailers is to reduce inventory to a point where a single item is delivered to the shelf just as the customer reaches for it. This means that the ability to track and control inventory is an overwhelming factor in reducing overhead, shipping expenses, stocking fees, and "shrinkage" due to loss, theft, or any damage.

The ultimate objective for retailers is to reduce inventory to a point where a single item is delivered to the shelf just as the customer reaches for it.

We have been told RFID will affect us all and it is destined to have benefits - and consequences - far beyond bar coding. But somewhere, it seems, the technology lost its way. There can be no doubt that RFID has struggled to reach the huge expectations placed upon it at the turn of the last decade.

According to Tariq Hasan, MEA manager for Motorola's enterprise mobility business, there has been some correction in the early hype. "RFID hasn't lost steam," he says. "There has been a slight reality check. Of late we see a larger percentage of inquiries where the customer seems to have done some homework and understands at least in part RFID applications, its strengths and weaknesses."

It's true that there have been some rollouts and implementations of RFID in the Middle East, including Sabic, Mohebi Logistics, Saudi Post and Al Tayer Group. More recently, the roads and transport authority (RTA) in Dubai has used the technology for its road tax system, Salik. According to Indranil Guha, manager for IT infrastructure management at RTA, the company is planning on using the technology in its new offices, set to be ready by 2009, for asset tracking and physical security as well.

Most vendors in the space believe there are now more pilots underway and more live sites than ever before. Hasan admits, however, that there are significant challenges to be overcome when addressing the Middle Eastern market.

"Motorola is in the passive EPC UHF RFID business and usage of RFID is subject to local government regulations," he explains. Hasan points out that the adoption of the frequency slice from the available UHF band (around 900 MHz) varies from country to country in the region and this also presents a stumbling block, especially for organisations operating across multiple jurisdictions. In some countries the regulators have not yet reached a final decision on the frequency, making it difficult to propose a solution.

Colin Summers, regional manager for MEA at Intermec, believes that 2008 will see even more sites deploying RFID. "There is bound to be a level of over-expectation of the speed of implementation and benefits of RFID, as the technology has been pumped up as the next best thing for so long now," he says. "RFID does have great benefits and real RoI, but the reality is that the impact of an implementation is felt way beyond the infrastructure of the company. Implementing RFID affects and changes methodologies, ERP, networking, AIDC and many other aspects of the business."

Implementing an RFID network, Summers points out, entails much more than just installing RFID readers. The business must carefully plan a total revamp of data networking and capacity. With RFID, the amount of data moving on the network can be 100 or 1000 times greater and this can have a huge impact on the LAN and WAN.

However, he is convinced that the region is well prepared for more widespread adoption of the technology. "Interest in RFID has definitely been increasing recently," he says. "The IT community is very aware of the implementation process of RFID and how the organisation can successfully run an RFID network. There is now a good level of understanding of RFID across the region, which means that we have more qualified opportunities and expect even more live sites in 2008."

Two sides of a coin

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code