Active RFID is the style of RFID that has been around the longest. It has remained, until the 18000-7 standard, a world of conflicting proprietary approaches ranging from frequency choice to low level protocol nuts and bolts. Over the years the read ranges have climbed from a couple of meters to 100 meters and more, battery life has been extended to 5 years, costs have come down, sensor technology has been incorporated, yet interoperability was still missing. There was no inherent advantage for any one vendor to share its technology or to push for a common approach – the market was still very much about differentiation due to the hardware technology itself. ISO 18000-7:2008, adopted and initiated by the US DoD, based on their practical experiences with a proprietary approach, has led to this break through.
This post is the first in a series of five posts that will address interoperability of active RFID, how it can benefit shippers, what it will take to be a bona fide solution and not just another technology play, what has been tried in the past, and who is involved now.
This breakthrough is similar to what the passive world experienced when EPC Global came into being, Wal-Mart and the DoD adopted it, and then all the hardware providers started to play nice with each other.
What the ISO 18000-7 standard has done, along with the US DoD issuing a request for proposal (RFP) for a very large contract award, is to get four hardware manufacturers to adopt the standard and develop products that effectively interoperate over the air with each other. These manufacturers are Evigia, Hi-G Tek, IDENTEC SOLUTIONS, and Savi Technology.
The DoD statement of work (SOW) (the project is called RFID III) also mandated and funded testing to prove that the products were interoperable. This testing was done at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories in Washington State. Further, the SOW mandated that each vendor had to field tags (transponders) in six different form factors, a fixed reader (interrogator), and a mobile reader (interrogator) that would attach to and work with a handheld data terminal (e.g. a Motorola 9090 unit).
The military had many reasons for doing this, but the bottom-line for the commercial side is to open up the prospect that infrastructures and in-transit visibility systems could be built and be cost effective. What has been needed for active RFID to mimic the interoperability success of the passive world was a set of standards from a recognized standards body and a clout heavy adopter. The US Department of Defense and its NATO partners (about 40 nations in total) are that clout heavy adopter and the ISO standards group is that globally recognized standards body.
The 18000-7 standard doesn’t cover everything needed, it left out some sensor functions for example, and the remainder of the RFID III SOW filled in many of the gaps by adding data structures for the user data area and host/in-transit visibility server (ITV) communications along with other standards compliances important to the military (e.g. electromagnetic interference (EMI) in and around aircraft of all sizes).
What is needed now is the adoption by a major government regulatory agency (say the US Department of Homeland Security), the development of user data area standards, and the incorporation of methods for upload of this data to commercial ITV servers (like the services provided by Descartes Systems Group).
The problem DoD, NATO and the other allies have used active RFID to solve is nothing new to commercial entities. Simply put, how do I track my stuff from shipment to destination when there is no common infrastructure, technology, or agreement to allow such tracking to be both timely and cost effective? Shipping companies have resisted adoption of any one particular technology without a significant adoption base. After all, they can’t afford to slap multiple types of transponders on their containers and have them look like a steamer trunk from the 1920s. The new ISO standard and its adoption by DoD, NATO, and pending adoption by other US government agencies has created the opportunity for shippers, ocean carriers, port operators, truckers and airlines to follow their lead and begin to build that flexible infrastructure to answer the question: “Where’s my stuff?”
We will have to wait and see what actually happens. I will write more on this as time progresses.
You can learn more about;
The ISO 18000-7 standard by visiting the Dash-7 Alliance web site (http://www.dash7.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1&Itemid=2).
Messaging and visibility services from Descartes Systems Group at http://www.descartes.com/
ISO 18000-7:2008 compliant hardware manufacturers at,
Related posts in this series are: