RFID gets renewed attention with spotlight on IoT

An old killer app rides again. Radio frequency identification (RFID) will become a key component of the Internet of Things (IoT) because it bridges the physical and digital worlds, enabling the identification of objects and linking them to the internet.

RFID has been around for decades and was once seen as a "can't miss" technology. However, it didn't live up to the initial hype. Eventually, RFID settled into a useful but supporting role in many fields, notably in retail, according Network World. High costs of readers and the RFID tags themselves, ranging from 7 to 15 cents for the least expensive passive tags, were big reasons RFID didn't gain traction. But as the IoT grows, RFID will become essential, along with other technologies like passive ultra-high-frequency RFID tags, near field communication (NFC) and others yet to be invented.

In one view, RFID tags are supercharged bar codes with radio connectivity. RFID readers wirelessly detect and track items with tags as they move through a supply chain, pass through a production line or wait in inventory or on a sales floor.

The current vision of the IoT is that it will consist of many interconnected networks based on a variety of standards and specifications, some yet to be developed. "I don't think RFID is ever going to be replaced. It is only one component in an IoT implementation," said Nina Turner, a research manager at IDC.

"The landscape of the Internet of Things is complex and will only get more complicated," said Kevin Berisso, chair of the IoT committee at the Association for Automatic Identification & Mobility, an RFID industry organization. "Competing platforms are still evolving and pathways to interoperability between them need to be built."

Erick Brethenoux, IBM's director of analytics, described RFID as simply another IoT data channel. "The Internet of Things just means using data from different devices, and integrating that data into existing or new business solutions. RFID is one of those inputs," he said.

RFID connects the physical and digital realms by supplying data that identifies a specific object at an exact place and time. "Where RFID is going to play in the Internet of Things is by adding the unique value of what's going on at a particular point on a specific object at an exact time," said Doug Bellin, Cisco's global senior manager of manufacturing and mining. "There's value in that sort of insight."

Phil Gerskovich, senior VP for new growth platforms at Zebra Technologies, also commented on the relationship between the two technologies. "You interrogate the tag, and it responds with an identifier so you get a unique identification. That most basic level of interaction has always been a part of RFID and is very compatible with the Internet of Things."

The "killer application" for RFID remains inventory management, said Raghu Das, CEO of IDTechEx, a U.K. market research firm. The IoT will merge the power of the internet with a complex mix of cutting edge identification, sensor and cloud technologies, ultimately making RFID more useful, ubiquitous and less expensive.

The maturing of RFID technology, declining costs and the anticipation of IoT integration are combining to boost adoption and expansion of existing deployments, Das said. "RFID is really exploding in terms of growth. It went through a period of very big interest about 10 years ago, and then people were disappointed with its uptake, so it really hit that trough of disillusionment between about 2008 and 2011," he said.

Now, sales have increased again. "To give you some context, in 2014, around 7 billion RFID tags were sold. In 2015, we forecast about 9.2 billion tags will be sold," Das said.

Over the next several years, RFID vendors will work hard to make their products IoT-compatible. "Today, most RFID readers are capable of talking only on local area networks, not over the broader internet," Gerskovich said. "That will require software changes by vendors to enable connectivity to IoT platforms."

The integration of RFID into the IoT is expected to occur gradually. "The key thing with the IoT is that it's not going to happen on a certain date," Turner said. "It's going to grow gradually as people understand their systems better. As they do trial implementations, adoption will increase."

For more:
-See this Network World article

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