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IBM offers RFID tech, but report questions fast track

Posted: 22 Dec 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:radio-frequency id? ibm?

Radio-frequency ID technology is hot, but observers caution that hurdles, including a patent dispute, must be overcome before the technology can be widely deployed.

To that end, IBM Corp. has introduced two new WebSphere-based servers that incorporate RFID technology as well as middleware for retail store operations.

The WebSphere RFID Premises Server is the first software offering from IBM's new Sensor and Actuator Solutions business unit.

Metro Group, the world's fourth-largest retailer, is the first to roll out RFID throughout its supply chain using RFID middleware based on the new IBM server. The retailer is using the technology to provide a virtual view of RFID-tagged pallets and cases shipped to its distribution centers.

The IBM server is capable of interpreting and correlating high volumes of data from RFID devices and to track RFID-tagged pallets and products.

IBM also announced it will offer the WebSphere RFID Device Infrastructure to device manufacturers. This includes embedded software that supports EPCglobal (Electronic Product Code) standards, and enables RFID device manufacturers to implement RFID data filtering at the point of wireless data detection. It also can be integrated with other devices such as indicator lights, motion sensors and industrial automation equipment.

IBM expects to make a $250 million investment over the next five years in the Sensor and Actuator Solutions unit. The investment includes some 1,000 employees working across the company's software, services and hardware divisions. It also includes opening three new RFID Labs worldwide, and leveraging its relationships with chip and reader manufacturers also working to develop a standards-based wireless network for RFID.

Despite IBM's investments and high hopes, some analysts are questioning RFID's prospects. According to ABI Research, three factors will conspire to slow RFID implementation.

The first is the conflict surrounding RF reader vendor Intermec's intellectual property claims against parts of the EPCglobal Generation 2 specification. EPCglobal, the nonprofit organization charged with commercializing Electronic Product Code (EPC) technology, has yet to release its findings on the Intermec IP claims. The dispute remains a stumbling block to faster RFID industry development. If the EPC standards group dismisses the claims, a legal battle is likely to ensue, according to ABI Research. If the IP claim is deemed relevant, licensing issues will delay RFID production ramp ups.

The second issue is a dispute between EPCglobal and the International Organization for Standardization over a part of the proposed specification dealing with the numbering systems used with RFID tags. EPCglobal is hoping to deal separately with the issue in order to speed approval of the rest of the standard.

Finally, according to ABI Research, many prestandard products have been sold on the assumption that they are firmware-upgradeable. That often means they can only be upgraded to single or multi-unit use, not to the "dense" configuration that is the key to the success of Generation 2 RFID devices, according to ABI.

- Nicolas Mokhoff

EE Times

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