A Do-It-Yourself RFID Kit From NCR

As retail RFID mandates promise to force more small- and mid-size manufacturers into the RFID business, NCR has put together an IT Cliff's Notes for RFID, featuring basic software, an RFID printer, bar-code scanner and "a startup supply" of Gen2 RFID labels.

The NCR RFID Retail Compliance package will sell for about $12,000 to $15,000, depending on options selected, said Terry Massey, an NCR sales and marketing director. The $12,000 versions will have just the printer and software "to do the basic retail mandate," Massey said, while the $15,000 version "starts getting into handheld readers and fixed readers."

The NCR package also included one year of software telephone support along with installation wizards for configuring printers, software and tags which would allow users, according to an NCR statement, "to avoid costly project management or other custom services."

Massey said it's designed for small- and medium-sized manufacturers because "the Wal-Mart 100, they already have this. They've either developed it on their own or they partnered."

Various industry groups have said that 2006's RFID growth?especially for the core applications in pallet and case tracking?has been much slower than expected. But most reports conclude that industry dynamics will still force RFID to grow in almost all segments, albeit more slowly.

"RFID is indeed happening slowly in the marketplace," NCR's Massey said, but with Wal-Mart planning to add about 700 more suppliers to its RFID program by the end of 2007, RFID growth isn't going to stop. Wal-Mart's RFID moves are almost certainly going to be mirrored by competing retailers. In response to Wal-Mart, "we're seeing other retailers getting bolder about enforcing their own retail mandates, which will cause a ripple effect."

Asked about general RFID market softness, Massey blames much of it on realistic expectations. "People got caught up in the hype," he said, citing the one-size-fits-all fallacies that argued that one form of RFID would be the technology panacea for all retailers and manufacturers. "We've seen some companies that swear they're going to make UHF work for everything."

Although the answer can't be to force 15 additional infrastructures on a manufacturer, multiple approaches might be appropriate for complicated businesses. The onus then would fall on integration and interpretation to make the different approaches appear as homogenous as possible.