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Are You Ready for RFID?

Are You Ready for RFID?
November 24, 2003

Radio frequency identification technology is suddenly one of the most talked-about trends in technology's post-bubble era thanks to nudging and interest from large retailers and the federal government.

Originally developed during World War II to help anti-aircraft gunners discern friend from foe, RFID is now being enlisted to help manufacturers and retailers track products from factories to store shelves.

The systems have two components: tags and readers. The tags are paper-thin, one-inch radio transponders attached to pallets, cases, and eventually individual items. The other components are readers, which are panels about the size of a pizza box that receive and translate signals and shuttle data back to a network.

Retailers believe RFID will eventually replace bar codes, vastly improve the efficiency of their supply chains, and cut down on theft and loss. Other business sectors are also looking at RFID tags and readers for a variety of tasks.

Hospitals see the technology as a way to manage medicinal inventories and keep track of equipment. Fire departments envision a system that gives commanders instant information about their team members' locations.

Until very recently, most IT departments recognized RFID's potential, but they also saw several problems that were likely to conspire in delaying wide-spread adoption for another three to five years. But now engineers are feverishly working to address the issues, such as signal interference, lack of standards, and the high cost of the tags.

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