Export (0) Print
Expand All

Microsoft RFID Technology Overview

 

Javed Sikander
Microsoft Corporation

November 2004

Summary: Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is emerging as a major technology enabler for supply chains around the world. This article explores the technology used in RFID, and potential adoption scenarios. (29 printed pages)

Table of Contents

Executive Summary
Primer: Radio Frequency Identification Technology
RFID Adoption
Solution Scenario
Solution Architecture
Microsoft RFID Engagement
Conclusion
Appendix

Executive Summary

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is evolving as major technology enabler for supply chains around the world.

Wal-Mart and the Department of Defense (DoD) along with some other major retailers now require their suppliers to begin RFID tagging pallets and cases shipped into their distribution centers. These mandates are about to impact some 200,000 suppliers globally. The Department of Homeland Security is looking to leverage RFID along with other sensor networks to secure supply chains and ensure port and border security. Pharmaceutical companies are already adopting the technology for anti-counterfeit measures. The automotive industry has been using the technology in manufacturing for decades. Now they are looking to extend its use to help with mandates such as the TREAD Act. Many major businesses already use RFID for better asset visibility and management.

Companies looking to adopt RFID have to deal with a number of challenges, including:

  • Implementing an RFID solution that can interoperate with emerging standards for communication protocols, hardware platforms, and software interfaces.
  • Implementing an RFID solution that is cost effective, leverages their existing supply chain investments, and gives them clear a return on investment (ROI).
  • Preparing for the vast amounts of data generated by RFID.

Although RFID technology is still developing, it is projected that RFID solutions will be widely deployed by 2007. Microsoft and partners are committed to RFID. Specifically, Microsoft recognizes that RFID is a larger software issue than hardware issue. There are data issues concerning deploying the technology, reading the data, managing and integrating the data into the business flow, and scaling solutions. Microsoft is already active in all of these areas through the following actions:

Commitment to Partners:

  • Technical support and enablement for every partner on the Microsoft platform.
  • Clearly communicate Microsoft product roadmap to the partner community.
  • Encourage and enable every independent software vendor (ISV) to build on Microsoft platform.
  • Participating in RFID pilots underway with enterprise customers to better understand technology needs and to develop detailed solutions and platform requirements.
  • Developing partner engagement programs to actively engage with independent hardware vendors (IHVs), ISVs, and service integrators (SIs).
  • Founding the Center of Excellence (COE), a lab where these events can take place.

Commitment to Standards:

  • Actively working with EPCglobal, and other organizations (UCC, EAN, and so on) to help standardize and commercialize RFID technology and usage.
  • Formed the advisory council to interface with thought leaders from research, standards bodies, customers, and partners.

Commitment to Platform:

  • Developing RFID-enabling features on the Microsoft Platform.
  • Developing a prescriptive architectural guidance (PAG) for an RFID platform built on the .NET Framework that combines RFID technologies with best-of-breed products from Microsoft.
  • Continuing research activities.
  • Developing go-to-market messaging, field education, individual product development plans; and creating future technology roadmaps.

Primer: Radio Frequency Identification Technology

RFID has a long history. It is only now becoming a major force in industry, with associated standards bodies and technology advancements.

History

RFID technology was first used in World War II to differentiate between friendly and enemy aircraft. Over the years this technology has evolved and been applied to animal tracking and identification, speed pass lanes on toll roads, building security access, and for electronic payment processing at gas stations. The basic components of any RFID system include:

  • Tags—Also called transponders, these can be either active with their own means of sending a signal, or passive, relying upon the tag reader to provide the power necessary to generate the response signal. The signal could be a simple identification number stored in a read-only tag or a complex data stream that includes additional data stored within the tag's memory. These more complex tags could contain such data items as manufacture date, lot number, serial number, or even built-in sensors to track average storage temperatures or other data.
  • Readers—Also called interrogators, come in various configurations depending on the location, environment, and scanning area coverage required. A reader is used to identify all tags within its reception coverage area. Readers require some intelligence for aggregating and smoothing the tag data.

Aa479362.rfid-overview-1(en-us,MSDN.10).gif

Figure 1. Reading RFID tags in a warehouse

Information transmitted from the tag can be interpreted by reading the data directly from the reader itself or through a software–based interface.

RFID tags can come in numerous forms with different capabilities including:

  • Key fobs (active read/write)
  • Bulk metal tags (use-once, passive read-only)
  • Garment disks (reusable, active read-only)
  • Smart Card credit-cards with RFID tags embedded for storing personal information
  • RFID nails that can be driven directly into palettes (passive read-only)

Today every RFID implementation is different, and all RFID solutions have to evaluate various performance and cost factors including the operating environment, on-tag memory storage, and signal transmission restrictions. Each of these issues has significant cost impacts on both tags and readers. In addition, RFID solutions in the market today are generally proprietary in nature and tags from one vendor cannot generally be read by a reader from a different vendor. There are some limited RFID standards in place, but these standards are not globally accepted and some even conflict with RFID standards in other countries.

Standards

One of the driving forces in RFID adoption is the emergence of standards bodies to unify the various technologies

EPCglobal

In 1998 researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) proposed a system-level approach to automatic object identification to solve interoperability issues and reduce the related hardware and software costs. The team realized that the key to low-cost RFID technology was to focus on:

  • Reducing functionality on the tag, thereby reducing the cost-of-manufacturing.
  • Leverage data networks for storing and delivering larger amounts of data.
  • Open standards.

The MIT Team partnered with Uniform Code Council (UCC), European Article Numbering Association (EAN, which is the UCC international counterpart), Gillette, and Procter & Gamble. Eventually the team made many seminal breakthroughs including:

  • Object Naming Service (ONS) and other system software collectively referred to as the Savant.
  • New lightweight RFID protocols for ultra–high frequency (UHF) and high–frequency (HF) communications.
  • Standards for software interfaces.
  • Proposed new control and diagnostic methodologies.
  • A large field trial with 40 participating companies and spanning 10 cities in 8 states.

In 2003, this technology was transferred to EPCglobal, which will administer and develop the proposed standards going forward. EPCglobal is a joint venture between EAN International and the UCC. It is a nonprofit standards organization established to drive the global adoption and implementation of the EPCglobal Network across industry sectors. Its mission is to make organizations more effective by enabling true visibility of information about items. To that end, EPCglobal develops and oversees standards for the Electronic Product Code (EPC) Network. Additionally, EPCglobal provides a global EPCTM number registry service for electronic product codes.

As a joint venture between EAN International and the Uniform Code Council (UCC), EPCglobal leverages a nearly thirty-year heritage of successfully partnering with industry.

EPC Network

The EPC Network is comprised of a set of technologies designed to enable immediate, automatic identification and sharing of information on items. Once implemented, the EPC Network will make organizations more effective by enabling true visibility of information about any item and its location as well as transparently supplying this information to other companies in virtual organizations or supply chain networks.

The network has five fundamental elements:

  • Electronic Product Code (EPC)
  • EPC-based tags and readers
  • Object Name Service (ONS)
  • Physical Markup Language (PML)
  • Savant (software system components)

Electronic Product Code

The EPC Network begins with the Electronic Product Code (EPC). Essentially, the EPC is the electronic equivalent of the UPC barcode. It is a string of characters that uniquely identifies any tagged item. However instead of referring to a class of products, like UPCs do today, the EPC refers to a specific instance of a product. In essence the EPC is a single ID built upon smaller IDs that represent the manufacturer, product identification (or model), and a serial number for that particular item.

The EPC is embedded in an RFID tag, primarily a low cost passive read-only tag on individual products or cases. When a reader scans each tag, it will transmit back its unique EPC code. This is done with little to no manual effort required compared to the work required to open boxes and align a barcode with its visual scanner. The EPC Network tag standard does not preclude other tags with read-write functionality or even more advanced capabilities. However, as additional tag functions and capabilities increase, so do the related manufacturing costs for that tag.

Object Naming Service

The EPC works together with the Object Naming Service (ONS). The ONS matches the EPC ID to a location on the Internet (or possibly an intranet) that provides additional information about that particular object. ONS is based in part on the Internet's existing Domain Name System (DNS), which routes information requests to appropriate Internet locations. For a given EPC the ONS Framework will either return the IP address of the Physical Markup Language (PML) server at the manufacturer or retailer, and/or return the IP address of an internal server to which the information about the particular EPC can be read from or written to.

Physical Markup Language

The Physical Markup Language (PML) is a new standard "language" for describing physical objects within the EPC Network. The purpose of PML is to provide a standardized format and vocabularies for the exchange of data captured by the sensors in an RFID infrastructure (for example, RFID readers), and provide a means to exchange product information with other partners in the supply chain. The core PML standard provides a set of schemas that define the interchange format for transmitting the data values captured. These data entities might be accessed directly from the sensor or from other data or business applications.

Savant

The final piece of the EPC Network is the Savant. The Savant is a theoretical software system that sits between tag readers and enterprise applications to write applications to capture, filter, analyze, and communicate EPC data. Many of the unique challenges arise from the vast quantity of fine-grained data that originates from RF tag readers, as compared to the granularity of data that traditional enterprise applications are accustomed to. Hence, quite a bit of processing performed by Savant concerns data reduction operations such as filtering, aggregation, and counting. Other challenges arise from specific features of the EPC architecture, specifically the lookup operations for the ONS and PML Service components.

This system is important because these concepts are incorporated into the industry's thinking, which is incorporating the services defined by the Savant model. The Microsoft offering will interface with these services using service-oriented architecture (SOA) and Web services.

RFID Versus Existing Technologies

One of the early technologies to have a large impact in this space was the Universal Product Code (UPC). The ubiquity of UPCs has made a dramatic impact on the consumer-packaged goods (CPG) industry. By leveraging UPCs along with other barcode technologies, the grocery industry alone was able to realize hard and soft savings (as percentages of revenue) of 2.76 percent and 2.89 percent respectively. By 1997, the industry estimated that these cost reductions added up to approximately $17.0 billion in total annual savings, taken from every area of its end-to-end value chain—starting at production and ending on the store shelf (from Twenty-Five Years Behind Bars, Alan L. Haberman, Harvard University Press).

The UPC and barcode technologies in the market today do have limitations and as companies press for higher efficiencies, these technologies require some rethinking. A replacement for the UPC and barcode on products today should be able to provide better tracking data and reduce the labor costs associated with scanning products at various points within the supply chain. The ideal solution would be an electronic equivalent of the UPC that can be included in most product packaging and could broadcast its ID and other stored data wirelessly as the product moves from point to point. Each company could then incorporate the broadcast information with the existing internal business applications and processes to provide for significantly higher hard and soft savings.

Also, RFID readers and tags significantly reduce labor costs associated with deliberately scanning products at specific orientations (establishing line of sight) since the product needs only to be within a reader's range. Tags can therefore also be read in bulk very rapidly, offering virtually simultaneous reading of the contents of, say, a stockroom or pallet.

Technical Considerations

Because of the vast quantities of data and many levels of architecture, any RFID solution faces a number of major challenges.

Configuration and Management of Reader Devices

When a large number of RFID Readers and related hardware devices are deployed across multiple facilities, it requires a lot of effort for the initial deployment, configuration, and ongoing maintenance of these devices. However, using highly automated administrative tools for setup and configuration with batch management simplifies this aspect.

Tremendous Data Volumes

The biggest challenge in implementing an RFID solution is handling the large amounts of continuous data generated by the RFID readers. Since the readers scan each RFID tag several time per second, any facility with dozens of RFID readers scanning hundreds of products each generate tremendous amounts of raw data. Most of this data is redundant and discarded at the reader level, or smoothed at the next layer, but the huge volume of data still poses a major challenge.

Information Maintenance and Look-Up

The large number of RFID tags being read and the continuous fetching of each item's associated key attributes from either a central catalog database or the Internet is a major implementation challenge by itself. The EPC Network's Savant–based reference architecture has proposed the use of the ONS structure (similar to the DNS of the Internet) for this purpose; however, many experts in the industry have expressed concerns with this design. They believe that this could be easily done using XML Web services and existing concept such as Active Directory and UDDI.

Integration Across Multiple Facilities

Multiple distributed facilities increase the difficulty for near-real-time data exchange. This is a major burden on any network infrastructure and must be addressed with caution.

Ownership and Partner Data Integration

In multi-stage business processes like the retail supply chain, different segments are owned by different companies. This generates issues regarding the ownership and integration of the data at various points along the chain. Resolving these issues could significantly impact the technical architecture and RFID solutions value proposition.

Security and Privacy

RFID offers tremendous boons to security and privacy, but depending on the nature of the business application and the solution scenario, implementation could be a major challenge. At this time these challenges are more of a legal and ethical issue than technical. However, any proposed RFID solution will have to provide some flexibility in allowing enterprises to address security and privacy based on their own policies.

EPC Network Architecture Interoperability

Today the EPC Network services are based on J2EE/Linux technologies. Any RFID solution will still need to be functionally equivalent to these services within the solution. Also, since trading partners may have deployed solutions based on the "open" EPC Network technology, any solution will need to provide some level of interoperability with these services. This includes activities like EPC lookups, PML document exchange, and so forth.

Data Privacy

The benefits offered by RFID provide a compelling case for deployment within the supply chain. However, organizations must be mindful of privacy issues surrounding the technology.

Today, most RFID deployments are supply-chain applications such as tagging for shipping containers or pallets. These do not associate personally identifiable information (PII) with tag identification (EPC) numbers. However, with item-level tagging, unique identification numbers in EPCglobal tags might become associated with an individual at the point of sale (POS) when the tagged product, such as an item of clothing, is acquired.

Key Issues for Consumers

The situation is of concern because:

  • Unobtrusiveness—RFID tags and readers, and their operation, may not have any visible indications to an observer.
  • Uniqueness of ID—While a UPC bar code designates a type or model of object, an EPC RFID tag designates a specific object. This raises the possibility that individual objects might be tracked over time through the accumulated record of their sightings by RFID readers.
  • Interoperability—The new standards emerging for RFID emphasize the ability for the same tag to be read usefully by many enterprises, including Internet-accessible databases. Any enterprise can read a tag and query repositories for information about that tag and its history. While there may be standard protections applied to the repositories, the universal access to their portals elevates the risk of data leakage to a new degree.
  • Proliferation—The proliferation of RFID tags, especially those that remain active outside the store environment, will also mean that the risks associated with the developments outlined above will increase. And, where risks exist, vigorous attention to their mitigation is necessary.

Sources of Leakage

Within the supply chain, there are opportunities for data leakage:

  • A snooper with a radio could observe the tag in unauthorized times or places. However, this is unlikely since any snooper would have to be on (or very near) the premises.
  • Someone could break into the tag database, or the data could be used inappropriately. The database is more valuable if it contains ID numbers of RFID tags along with associated PII (personally identifiable information) about the purchaser. There may be an incentive for the vendor to accumulate and possibly use or sell this information. Also the usual concerns about IT security of the database apply, but they are exacerbated because now there may be many venues observing the tags' presence. Thus, there are many data holders, and they may have varying levels of skill and compliance with data privacy and security practices.
  • Presumably the permission to query must be broadly available to support interoperability. What other parties are authorized to fetch information?
  • Monitoring the queries can also reveal information, even when the returned data is encrypted or otherwise hidden. Who can monitor the queries to this database?

These are real concerns, but they arise in all IT situations and are not unique to RFID. In the within-enterprise scenario, these IT concerns are not exacerbated by the fact that RFID is being used.

Once the tags remain active outside the supply chain, other privacy breaches become possible in addition to the issues above.

  • The database inside the home could be exposed to the Internet by design or by accident. Since individual consumers would be administering such databases, there will be many people lacking the skill, information, or resources to properly ensure the security of their home inventory data.
  • When an RFID reader is in use in a public place, "authorization" by the consumer requires that their presence be announced. Even if an RFID reader's presence is announced, there may be a concern over the use of the collected data, as well as concern over the interpretation of the announcement.
  • Since queries may be made of the external database from many venues, the record of these queries becomes revealing about the consumer's activities. Thus, the danger posed by snooping on the queries, or other inappropriate use of the query history, is exacerbated.

Risk Assessment

These dangers are not likely to result in privacy breaches in the mainstream use of RFID currently under development that is in the supply chain. The scenarios that would result in the leakage of individual private information are still hypothetical and require numerous developments in the marketplace and in consumer lifestyle. The potential is there, but society-wide privacy breaches through RFID are not imminent at this time. RFID is designed to track products and physical assets rather than people.

However, it is appropriate to consider those future circumstances and to develop practices and policies that will engage the benefits of RFID while helping to ensure that privacy is protected. Even in future public-facing scenarios privacy can be maintained if tags are disabled as they leave the store, or placed inside labels that customers can remove from products once they have purchased them. In addition, it is imperative that all customer-facing RFID-enabled solutions are optional. That means customers must always give their permission before data about them is used.

Microsoft therefore presents recommendations for responsible use of RFID as well.

Microsoft and Privacy

Microsoft has a single principle that guides its policies around consumer privacy and data protection:

Microsoft customers will be empowered to control the collection, use, and distribution of their personal information.

Microsoft's approach to putting consumers in control of their personal data is based on the widely accepted concept of fair information practices, which form the basis of a number of privacy laws and industry guidelines. As such, Microsoft privacy policies provide a set of standards that apply to all PII, irrespective of the technology in use.

In brief, Microsoft follows the following policies relating to RFID:

  • Conspicuous notification must be posted and the governing privacy statement must be available near readers and tags when RFID tags are in use.
  • Items or packaging tagged using RFID tags must be labeled accordingly.
  • Privacy statements must include information on the purposes for which tags and readers are being used.
  • Consumers must be provided with the choice to remove or deactivate tags on purchased items.
  • Consumers must be notified if personal data associated with RFID tags is being transferred to third parties and provide explicit consent for any secondary use.
  • Data transfers of personal data must include appropriate security measures.
  • Reasonable access must be provided for customers to their personal data so they can correct or amend it.
  • Appropriate security measures must be in place to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use, or disclosure.
  • Reasonable steps must be taken to ensure personal data is relevant for its intended use.
  • Consumers must have a mechanism for resolving disputes with the RFID data collector.
  • There must also be an affordable, independent recourse mechanism when complaints or disputes cannot be resolved.

RFID Adoption

RFID technology promises to create significant value for businesses and consumers alike. Recent technological advancements have made it possible to make the tags cheaper and smaller than ever before. As a result, industries are beginning to take notice of the huge cost savings RFIDs item-level granularity.

Although RFID technology could be used in any number of vertical and horizontal solutions, only the supply chain and CPG space has had a significant amount of research and analysis completed, largely driven by Wal-Mart and other retailers.

Supply Chain Segments

The supply chain is a linked set of resources and processes that begins with the sourcing of raw material and extends through the delivery of end items to the final customer. Today large demands are placed on manufacturers, distributors, and retailers along the chain to maximize efficiency, minimize cost, and provide the best value to the end customer. These suppliers are all learning how to apply new technologies within their sectors to improve business earnings. These include:

  • Manufacturing
  • Logistics
  • Distribution
  • Warehousing
  • Retailers

All supply chain segments will benefit from RFID technologies. Certainly the large retail chains are showing a huge interest in RFID and there is no doubt that this segment, initially, will gain a large part of the overall benefits from applying the technology. For example, with products being RFID-tagged there is an improved possibility for having trustworthy demand signals, which are extremely important not only to distributors but to all types of companies. Many of the uncertainties in demand planning originate from inaccurate data about where products are in the supply chain. The retailer may provide Point of Sale (POS) data to the manufacturer, but without the knowledge of existing inventory levels and stock in transit these data points are not sufficient for an accurate demand plan.

Supply Chain Market Drivers

Getting RFID into the market will require a three-phase approach.

Aa479362.rfid-overview-2(en-us,MSDN.10).gif

Figure 2. Market adoption phases

Phase 1: Mandates/Partner Compliance

Currently, there are initiatives that have been dictated or proactively adopted by the retailers and the suppliers in next few years.

  • Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) is a mandate that requires all the manufacturers and suppliers follow a global 14-digit standard for representing items and parts.
  • Global Data Synchronization is another initiative from UCC that requires the key constituents of the supply chain to follow standards to synchronize item masters and product catalogs.
  • Wal-Mart has already asked its top suppliers to support UCCNet for business process collaboration.

These different initiatives, to some companies as monumental as the Y2K efforts, are beginning to collide all at once within some suppliers. Each supply chain will require partners to tag their items with industry compliant tags. Today the target customers are the manufacturers and retailers in the Fortune 500 companies. Companies like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Coca–Cola, and even the Department of Defense (DoD) have begun early adopter pilots.

However, large-scale adoption of RIFD technologies will directly depend on the cost per tag. Looking across industries, the Manufacturing, Distribution, and Retail markets will most likely provide enough demand for RFID tags to lower the tag manufacturing costs for other RFID applications to become financially feasible. Current large-scale programs by Wal-Mart and the DoD are driving the CPG and retail industries. Efforts this large will kick start the market to the point where RFID is mature and inexpensive enough for widespread adoption. As these pilots move to implementation the costs associated with tags and readers will begin to decline. This is required to help drive the cost of an RFID tag to below the $.05 USD threshold. All of the analysts agree that a $.05 USD tag is the threshold for wide-scale adoption of RFID technologies.

Phase 2: Enterprise Efficiency

Today large retail chains and their suppliers are showing a huge interest in RFID and there is no doubt that this segment will gain large benefits from applying the technology within their supply chains. To do this, partners will need to build networks to handle and manage the data in a way that is transparent. This will require systems that can not only handle the vast data streams, but also use them in business processes to streamline the supply chain—for instance, using vendor-managed inventory (VMI) to control just-in-time (JIT) inventory. AMR Research estimates these companies could save as much as 3 to 5 percent of the total supply chain cost, a savings of over $500 billion.

Currently, the largest numbers of checkout lanes are in small and medium sized retail and convenience stores. When the technology is more cost-effective and the security and privacy issues are appropriately addressed, these locations can deploy RFID solutions at these locations for self-checkouts. This can drive significant additional revenues and bottom-line savings for the low margin, small-tier through mid–tier business.

Phase 3: Collaborative Commerce, Value Chain Efficiency

When all of these aspects are in place, companies will be able to form transparent networks, streamlining and protecting the supply chain.

The Department of Homeland Security is looking at RFID for everything from tamper-proofing shipping containers to securing the food supply. They see companies' adoption of RFID as an alternative to the government having to dictate separate security measures.

Pharmaceuticals are also embracing RFID to secure the supply chain and reduce counterfeiting. Both the FDA and Wal-Mart are pushing for this as well. GenuOne produces TraceGuard for Pharmaceuticals, a new version of its unit-level product tracking middleware for the pharmaceutical industry that uses RFID to prevent drug tampering and counterfeiting and to track the recall process.

Analysts' Views

The analysts below show a wide variation in near-term projections. Initially the RFID market had high entry costs and low volumes similar to the PC and the mobile phone market. Because of this, until recently RFID was restricted to a small set of applications such as vehicle immobilizers (anti-theft devices that must read an RFID tag on the key before allowing the car to start) and toll collection. However, RFID is slowly moving into other mainstream applications. As this trend continues tag prices will fall, paving the way for new solutions with disposable smart labels such as baggage handling applications at airports and inventory control. This is similar to bar codes. Today almost every item you buy is bar-coded. ABI says that RFID will see similar adoption in coming years.

Forrester

Based on interviews, Wal-Mart's supplier support through their Bentonville AK testing facility, and scaling back on their mandate to only specific SKUs, Forrester believes that Wal-Mart's 2005 compliance goal is "broadly attainable." However, Forrester collaborative supply chain processes are also necessary before companies will fully benefit from RFID.

They report other manufacturers are also making huge investments in RFID:

  • Gillette has ordered 500 million RFID tags from Alien Technology—for less than $0.10 each, marking a dual milestone toward affordable tags that use EPC and broad CPG adoption.
  • Michelin's eTires add-on sensor system measures the air pressure and temperature of commercial tires for fleet operators. Michelin is also using RFID to track tires in the supply chain. This represents 10^12 items.
  • Caterpillar's Minestar global positioning system (GPS) tracks machines on the jobsite for productivity and maintenance. The company then sells this as a high-margin value-added service.
  • In the UK, Norwich Union Insurance's "Pay As You Drive" (PAYD) scheme use telemetrics to measure actual car use and base premiums on the data. The premium is based on how often, when, and where customers actually used their cars.

In the vendor space, Forrester wonders if vendors can supply the market scaled-down solutions to satisfy short-term mandates before large-scale applications vendors like SAP do.

Allied Business Intelligence

Allied Business Intelligence (ABI) has a more conservative view of the market size. They believe RFID will show steady growth, but it will be tempered by the ability of secondary vendors to support the technology. One aspect they've focused on is the yet to be resolved standards battle, which could leave current industry leaders, like Texas Instruments, suddenly behind if there is a standards shift.

AMR Research

AMR reports that information technology (IT) spending by the retail segment is increasing dramatically, largely driven by RFID. AMR has long advocated transparent supply chain processes as a requirement to increasing profits. For instance, 41 percent of sales are lost from out-of-stock items. Proctor & Gamble wants to address this by tracking inventory right at the store shelf level. RFID is a central technology in such concepts.

IDC

Various IDC analysts predict an initial ramp-up in RFID spending until roughly 2008, when it will level out before item-level tagging becomes financially feasible.

METAGroup

Even though a tag is a component assembly, the basic cost is driven by the chips, which are so small that one plant could turn out a year's supply for the entire world in a few weeks. Because of this METAGroup doesn't see extreme market pressure being brought to bear to lower chip costs. By the time chip manufacturing and other supporting RFID solution costs become economically feasible here, they see the Chinese market as being key suppliers.

Yankee Group

Yankee Group sees RFID as a supply chain building block, combined with data-synchronization through UCCnet as and related technologies. But they feel that aligning all the technologies and players in the market to realize the full potential will take time.

Solution Scenario

Wide World Cycles produces high-end bicycles and custom bikes to order for a global market. They buy all parts from vendors except for the frames, which they make from raw steel pipe. This scenario covers the entire supply chain from vendors to retailers.

Manufacturing

Wide World and all of its suppliers use RFID to share location and other information about the various parts and subassemblies.

Vendor Managed Inventory for Tires

Perfect Circle tires supplies Wide World with an in-house stock of tires. They use RFID for vendor–managed inventory (VMI). That means that Perfect Circle is responsible for inventory at Wide World; Wide World never has to order. Each tire contains an RFID tag that houses the product information, including item and batch number, so that they can be re-ordered just-in-time (JIT). Perfect Circle will always know exactly how many tires are in the warehouse at Wide World and be able to follow changes in requirements in real-time allowing it to react quickly.

Assembly Scheduling

Once Wide World has an order of frames ready, it ships them to Photosynthesis Paints on RFID–tagged pallets containing the production order number and destination.

The gates at Wide World are equipped with readers that will read the tags on pallets as the frames leave, then update the system the tag's date/time information. The gates at Photosynthesis are likewise equipped with readers allowing it to know when a specific order comes in and route them to the correct workstation, for instance, the paint booth or the powder coating facility.

When the frames have been painted, the system updates the tag on the pallet with a status "Production order complete" and the frames are shipped back to Wide World. The tag information read at Photosynthesis also goes into Wide World's system notifying it of when an order leaves the subcontractor and thus when to expect it. If there are any exceptions, for instance if Photosynthesis had problems with their powder coating machine, a process used in place of paint on the high–end and custom bikes, this information is entered onto the pallet tag, allowing Wide World to reschedule workflow to compensate.

As soon as the readers at Wide World read the returning tags, the system notifies the final assembly facility and the order begins.

Distribution

IJEA is a wholesaler who handles order fulfillment for Wide World, among other sporting good manufacturers. They distribute to retailers around the world who may be anything from independently owned small shops in Asia to the largest chains in Europe.

Trucker Does Goods Receipt

A container of Wide World bikes arrives. The trucker unloads the pallets of goods into the warehouse. As the pallets move from the truck into the warehouse, they pass an antenna-portal connected to a reader. This reader picks up the information about the items received and displays them on a screen next to the doors, so that the trucker can see what has been unloaded.

Once all the goods are unloaded the trucker confirms the list of goods at the display. The system updates in real-time and directs an operator to store the bikes in the warehouse.

Picking

Picking at the warehouse is done order-by-order and the goods are shipped on pallets.

The pallets carry an RFID tag, which can store the pick list for an order. Because the warehouse handles fulfillment of many sporting goods manufacturers to various retailers, the list may contain other items along with Wide World bikes.

As new orders are released in the warehouse they are written to the tag on an empty pallet. The next available forklift operator picks up the next empty pallet. The reader on the forklift reads the pick list from the tag on the pallet and displays it on the operator's screen.

The operator drives to the first location to pick the required items. The system monitors and verifies the items, warning if incorrect and deducting from the list if correct. When the picking order is complete the operator brings the pallet to the packing area. At one point, Perfect Circle had a short run of bad tires, which Wide World recalled. The system notified the operator if a bike was on the recall list. The operator takes any recalls to a special section of the warehouse, where they are automatically removed from inventory and put on a return shipment.

Checking the Right Goods are on the Right Truck

Each outbound door has an individual reader, which reads all the pallets that are being loaded onto each truck. Once all the pallets that are being shipped with a truck have been loaded, the operator can confirm this on a screen next to each outbound door. If the operator tries to confirm before the system has registered that all pallets are onboard he will be given a warning.

Aa479362.rfid-overview-3(en-us,MSDN.10).gif

Figure 3. Confirming shipping contents

Retail

Retailers track items using systems similar to those in the warehouse.

Store Level Inventory Control

One of Wide World's customers is a major European specialty chain, The Bike Store, which is the exclusive retailer of Wide World bikes in the United Kingdom. They use a perpetual SKU-level inventory process that tags and tracks items through receiving, shelf stocking, and sales processes within the store.

Receiving

As soon as the order is shipped from the warehouse, an in-store receiving function receives data indicating what to expect in a specified shipment.

When the shipment is unloaded at the back of the store, the system reads the shipment's RFID tags accessing item descriptive data, summarizing it if necessary and comparing it to the expected shipment. Any discrepancies are noted and reported. Any differences are considered shrink until the discrepancy is resolved as the store will be charged for items reflected on the shipment data.

When receipts are read through the RFID back room readers they are logged into a store perpetual inventory database as available for sale. Any plus or minus from the expected orders is logged but the actual items read are assumed to be correct and put into the store inventory of record.

Shelf Stocking

As pallets of merchandise are received in the back room of the store, this data is made available to a shelf stocking scheduling function. This application is aware of the current inventory levels in the store and will schedule stocking of merchandise that is either out-of-stock or at a low inventory level first. Merchandise that is hard to stock or bulky will be scheduled during times when the store is closed or traffic is expected to be light. Merchandise is stocked in a sequence that spreads the available stocking labor throughout the aisles of the store.

Available store labor resources are taken into account when a store stocking schedule is produced. The stocking application can present the store associate with a shelf stocking list either on a printer or wireless terminal. The shelf stocking work list indicates the location of the merchandise on the pallet as well as indicating a shelf location for the merchandise to be put away.

When the stocking associate indicates that the shelf or rack stocking is complete, an RFID shelf checker application can audit the restocking function and the store shelf inventory levels. Some stores have backroom or secondary stocking areas within a store. The stocking function includes not only the putting away of new merchandise but the moving of merchandise in secondary locations to a primary selling area.

Store Replenishment and Ordering

Store inventory levels are checked on a preset schedule by RFID technology and wireless ordering terminals. Because Wide World has both high-end standard models and complete custom bikes, the system checks for the standard models and allows entry of the custom bikes on a per-order basis.

Inventory discrepancies between the items "read" on the shelves and other store locations and the perpetual store inventory can be noted if reasonable difference percentages are exceeded. Some discrepancy is to be expected from some items "in transit" to the front end and a certain level of unreadable tags in the store.

After inventorying the shelves and including the custom orders the system generates the order and checks it against the supply chain for any likely problems.

POS Checkout Process

The store recently upgraded its checkout process to include RFID scans of products. This allows them to have an end-to-end automated inventory process. Previously, check out used barcode scanning. If a coach bought team uniforms, the checker was likely to scan the first item, and then use the quantity key to multiply that scan, instead of scanning each item individually. This gave accurate pricing information, but did not track things such as size and color for inventory. The new system independently tracks each item sold at the register using RFID for inventory, and the barcode for sales.

Theft

The store is contemplating a system to further update the tags at the register to deactivate the tags. This way, they could use readers at the door to catch shoplifters.

Find Merchandise in the Store

The ability to search for an item in a store allows a sales associate to quickly help a customer find the merchandise that he wants. The RFID tag will lead the sales associate directly to the item without phone calls or search.

Customer Loyalty

The Bike Store caters to an exclusive clientele of racers and aficionados. Each customer has a store card with an embedded RFID tag. Essentially the customer is "read" as they enter the store. Customer shopping history, as well as the results of analysis performed on previous shopping experiences, is used to determine offers made to the customer while shopping. If a privacy flag is present on the customer record in the store database nothing will be done to disturb the customer during the shopping experience. If the customer does not have the privacy flag, the store identifies the customer, has a sales associate review the customer data, and then approach. For instance the sales associate might call to have the customer's new bike brought to the register, while the associate offers to help find related items of interest. The Bike Store is looking at further automating the process through offers made on a customer's phone or PDA, through a terminal mounted on a shopping cart, through a kiosk in the store, or even on the customer's sales receipt.

Each custom Wide World bike has a tag to record the product's sell date, service plan, and repair record. This lets them handle warrantee issues, and even allows identification in case the bike is stolen.

Solution Architecture

Figure 4 provides a high–level overview of the proposed RFID solution architecture based on existing Microsoft products and includes some proposed new components. Note that the proposed architecture is primarily at a conceptual level and is relatively abstract in nature. The reference architecture is based on work that is currently underway in the Microsoft technology labs and research activities. Also, please note that specific vertical solutions may use different architectural layers.

Aa479362.rfid-overview-4(en-us,MSDN.10).gif

Figure 4. The proposed layered architecture for Microsoft RFID solution

Solution Architecture Logical Layers

Following is a brief description of each of the 5 layers of the proposed conceptual architecture

Layer 0: Devices

This layer consists of the devices on the "edge" of the RFID enabled systems, which are primarily the RFID readers of various types made by third-party manufacturers. In addition, this layer also represents other devices such as the 802.1x Access Points for wireless local area networks (LANs), barcode readers, and other related technologies that add value to the overall RFID solution architecture.

Layer 1: Data Collection and Management

This layer consists of the basic operating environment and platform of the RFID-enabled solution architecture. This section represents the entire hardware, operating system(s), network(s), and other infrastructure components across the distributed implementations.

This layer also includes the adapters and interfaces that interoperate with the third-party RFID readers and related devices in the Peripheral Layer below it, handling device configuration and management. The adapters and interfaces are specialty programs that transform the data streams from the proprietary structures into the standard structure defined by the Microsoft solution architecture/design. This layer is the first step in handling and reducing the tremendous data volume through key operations on the incoming data such as:

  • Smoothing - Removing the redundant data coming in from multiple readers scanning the same tag.
  • Aggregation - Collecting data from multiple readers involving a similar set of products and tags.
  • Filtering - Sorting and filtering the incoming data by a specific product category, location area in the facility, reader number, etc.
  • Inferencing - Making logical inferences based on data from multiple readers. For example, readings from 2 separate side-by-side readers can be used to detect the direction of a product's physical movement.

This layer includes setup, deployment and administration/management tools for the various readers and devices in the Peripheral Layer. These tools make it possible to maintain a large number of readers and devices in a facility including software upgrades, automated configuration changes, and so forth.

Layer 2: Event Management

This layer and the layers above it are essentially the enablers of the business processes and solutions that can leverage the real-time data generated by the RFID technology layers below them to drive agile business activities using relational databases. This layer also provides the integration structure for integrating across multiple facilities and partner, and interoperating with the EPC Network components (Savant, PML, ONS) in case it becomes a customer requirement.

Layer 3: Services

This layer provides services that are implemented as the "abstraction" of the layer(s) below it, and can be implemented as API services and/or Web services. For example, the product information resolution look-up service can be implemented as a Web service that could be used to extract the information from the product catalog database in the layer below. Similarly, various business processes, related Business Intelligence (BI)/Analytics and query reporting services can be implemented in this layer.

Layer 4: Applications Solutions

This layer leverages the services, data and tools provided by the layers below to implement application solutions that the end customer would use to drive their business processes.

Aa479362.rfid-overview-5(en-us,MSDN.10).gif

Figure 5.   Product mix within the solutions architecture

As can be seen in the previous diagram, many Microsoft products fit this multi-layered architecture, with each product providing unique functionality to the overall mix and adding significant value from the technology perspective.

Layer 0: Devices Layer

Readers' data handling and filtering capabilities are increasing. Early readers act as emitters, just transferring every read over to a computer on a serial port. Smarter readers can filter and can discard much of the noise. They can take commands to read specific tags or scan on demand. Another class of readers, agile readers, can sense tags at multiple frequencies. Smart readers can also communicate with the host/server more efficiently over a wire or wirelessly.

For robust solutions, readers need to act like network devices, supporting remote boots, updates, and health check and monitoring. In order to support these features, they need to run a standard operating system. Various RFID reader manufacturers such as Alien Technologies are now powering their readers with Microsoft Windows CE. Pocket PCs with Microsoft Windows CE can also be used in this layer to give field workers access to Layer 4 applications.

Layer 1: Data Collection and Management Layer

This layer communicates tag data up to the Data Collection and Event Management (DCM) Layer. This layer performs more advanced filtering and resolves conflicts when the same tag is picked up by more than one reader. The real-time tag data received from the readers can be stored in a real-time operational data store (RODS) implemented on a SQL Server database. RODS provides a very simple schema and a very efficient mechanism to store and retrieve real time data.

This layer dumps the data into RODS and generates an event for any decision making business processes to retrieve and use the data. Once the real-time decisions are made, this data can be aggregated and transferred to a historical data warehouse, also in SQL. Alternatively, the business applications can keep their own copy of the data. Microsoft SQL Server contains features to allow fast upload and retrieval of real-time data.

Layer 2: Event Management Layer

This layer provides information maintenance and look-up using relational databases based on SQL Server (local, regional, and central databases and warehouses, including the cube OLAP structures), the business process orchestration based on BizTalk Server, and the product catalog database based on Commerce Server (existing catalogs can be used instead).

In case of an EPC tag, this layer encapsulates the functionality to fetch the product information. Part of the EPC number contains what is being termed as an ONS address by EPC Global. The ONS (which essentially is a DNS address) resolves to a URI that can be used to pull product information. Product data synchronization enabled by Global Data Synchronization (GDS) standards can also be used for this purpose. The data is cached in a local cache for fast access. GDS can be defined as "a process to automatically synchronize product item information within and across organizational boundaries." Microsoft BizTalk Accelerator for UCCNet implements the features established by GCI to support GDS.

This layer may also need to lookup transactional data for EPC read from the tags. For example, it could lookup the manifest and the associated advanced ship notice (ASN) from an EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) or other transactional system.

Layer 3: Services Layer

This layer sends and receives events to business applications or a business orchestration framework by exposing a Web service for any business application to interact with. These can be written in Visual Studio and Web Services Enhancements (WSE) for Visual Studio tools.

Layer 4: Business Application Layer

This layer sends real-time queries and data requests and obtains the needed information for decision making. It can also use SharePoint Portal Server (SPS) and Content Management Server (CMS) for managing and presenting the useful content (latest statistics, metrics, dashboards, etc.) to the internal and external customers.

Alternatively, real-time decision making capabilities could be built over an RFID-enabled business workflow orchestration framework in BizTalk.

Looking at the above, there are three key groups of Microsoft products that can be formed:

  • Core Products—These products provide the basic building blocks of the proposed solution architecture including the Windows product line, the .NET Framework and Visual Studio.NET, XML Web services, BizTalk Server, and SQL Server.
  • Application Solution Products—These products add value to the architecture for business functions and/or the end customer applications, including Commerce Server, Microsoft Office, various Microsoft Business Solutions products, and SharePoint products.
  • Extended Value-Add Products—These products extend the value of the RFID solution with their unique supplement, including Microsoft MapPoint 2004 for LOCATION detection scenarios, Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2003 for instant messaging and presence-oriented specialty scenarios.

Microsoft RFID Engagement

Microsoft is committed to the RFID space. In March 2004, Microsoft joined EPC Global to work on standards. That same month Microsoft held the First Partner Advisory Council meeting to help define platform strategy. Finally, Microsoft and partners are building the Center of Excellence (COE), an RFID lab to build and test solutions.

Partner Strategy

Microsoft understands that RFID requires a set of partners to develop a solution. Microsoft has the software, buts need hardware and services partners to build a complete solution that adds value to our platform. Microsoft sees RFID functionality as a competitive differentiator and will continue to evaluate opportunities to support our partners' RFID efforts.

  • Microsoft provides a platform on which our partners can create RFID solutions to meet the needs of our joint customers. We will continue to work with our customers and partners for new Microsoft Platform capabilities and requirements to support our partners' RFID efforts.
  • Microsoft is committed to working with its partners and the industry to develop applications and practices that respect customers' privacy expectations and concerns around RFID technology.
  • Microsoft understands that RFID technology significantly impacts business and people alike and plans to work with industry leaders to enable everyone to leverage this technology through its products and partner solutions.

To this end, Microsoft created the RFID partner Advisory Council to address the customer challenges jointly with key partners. At the first partner advisory meeting April 30, 2004, Microsoft hosted 45 partners from hardware, solution, and services companies.

Platform/Product Strategy

Microsoft is working to understand requirements from a platform perspective and identify a strategy to answer the question "What can we do that partners can continue to add value over the platform?" Microsoft has been talking to customers and partners for over a year collecting data about challenges they are facing in adopting RFID technologies.

The council defined three key areas of functionality required for successful RFID implementations.

OS Functionality on Devices

Microsoft is looking at functionality that goes on devices in the Devices Layer, including looking at additional features and functions to make device management/interfacing work seamlessly with the Microsoft environment.

Data Management

Microsoft will be building in RFID-specific features based on data collected from partners. The strategy combines a mixture of leveraging partner products and solutions and building new products or enhancing existing products.

Small and Medium Businesses Support

90 percent of the 200,000 suppliers are small or medium businesses. Microsoft wants to enable key products for them, such as warehouse management systems (WMS). These businesses are under mandates from their customers, like Wal-Mart, Target, Metro, Tesco, and Marks & Spencer. For them to comply with such mandates, they need an out-of-the box solution at a price point that makes sense. Some of the Microsoft Business Solution key products will be RFI-enabled out of the box, such as Axapta Warehouse Management System.

Standards Strategy

Microsoft supports standardization and believes it is key for a seamless global adoption. To this end Microsoft joined EPC Global to work collaboratively on standards to standardize frequencies, protocols between readers and servers, and protocols between tags and readers. Microsoft is actively engaged and plans to provide thought leadership to this body.

EPCglobal is leading the development of industry-driven standards for the Electronic Product Code (EPC) Network to support the use of RFID. EPCglobal is a nonprofit joint venture between EAN International and the Uniform Code Council (UCC). Microsoft is committed to business standards and has been a supporter of Uniform Code Council (UCC) and is actively engaged in its subsidiaries such as Rosetta Net and CIDX. Joining EPC Global is simply an extension of this commitment.

Other members are key CPG manufactures (Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson), retailers (Wal-Mart, Metro, Target), and the DoD. Many technology vendors such as Intel, Texas Instruments, and SAP are also members.

Conclusion

RFID is an exciting technology that will enhance control of key business processes to increase business performance and customer service for the entire supply chain.

Microsoft is providing a platform on which partners can create RFID solutions that will reduce human error from data collection, reduce inventories, and improve product availability. The Microsoft platform already adds value to any RFID solution. Microsoft partners and customers are using SQL Server and BizTalk Server to manage and integrate RFID data, as well as Visual Studio and Web Services Enhancements (WSE) for Visual Studio tools for creating Web services-enabled RFID solutions. Key hardware partners are powering their RFID Readers with Microsoft embedded operating systems such as Windows CE.

Next Step: Center of Excellence

As part of its collaborative efforts, Microsoft is creating the Center of Excellence (COE) where customers can evaluate their RFID scenarios on a Microsoft stack. The lab has the following goals:

  • Develop a global architectural approach for RFID solutions in general. The architecture document will demonstrate components, interfaces, and standards.
  • Develop end-to-end use cases applying RFID solutions to manufacturing, retail, pharmaceuticals, and other industries.
  • Document the architecture, including physical and logical design, integration to external systems, and lessons learned into a whitepaper.

Partner Benefits

COE partners will have access to the Center's resources for testing, education, and certification. They will be able to demonstrate to clients the business case and ROI for RFID in scenarios that include their products.

Customers can develop strategies based on deeply understanding the technology and influence solutions to their own real world problems. They can then pilot test these solutions on different platforms before implementing them.

The lab is being built in three phases.

Phase 1: Guidance for Developers, IT Pros, and Architects

In this phase Microsoft will build demos on its stack for 4 key industry scenarios, implementing partners' solutions running on the Microsoft stack. These solutions will be documented, including architecture and architectural guidance.

Phase 2: Customer Experience Demos

In this phase scenarios will roll out into seven Microsoft Technology Centers worldwide for customers to experience the demos.

Phase 3: "Completing the Vision"

The vision is for COE to create a nucleus for industry-wide RFID development. The Center will involve businesses in RFID pilots and proof-of-concept studies and demonstrate RFID as a value-added supply chain component. The lab will also evaluate partner solutions for both hardware and software and certify for both customer and partner.

Appendix

References

  • "Radio Frequency Identification, The Next Big Bet in Enterprise Business Systems," Javed Sikander, Eric Estroff, Marc Kamstrup-Jepsen, Sandana Kichenane, Steven Shafer, Sanjeev Karande, Ernie Mindlin, Gunjan Kumar, Frank May, August 20, 2003.
  • "A Business Architectural Framework for the Retail Enterprise," Frank May and Javed Sikander, June 9, 2002.
  • "Auto-ID on Demand: The Value of Auto-ID Technology in Consumer Packaged Goods Demand Planning," Gavin Chappell, Lyle Ginsburg, Paul Schmidt, Jeffrey Smith, Joseph Tobolski, November 1, 2002.
  • "Technical Report: Savant Guide," Amit Goyal, Auto-ID Center April 2003.
  • "Sun's Auto-ID Architecture Whitepaper," June 2003.
  • "Auto-ID Technology: Raising the Bar (Code) to Create the First Intelligent Value Chain," IBM Business Consulting Services, 2003.
  • "Global Commerce Initiative: EPC Roadmap," Global Commerce Initiative and IBM, November 2003.

Links to Referenced Articles

http://www.washingtontechnology.com/news/1_1/emergingtech/23205-1.html
http://www.fda.gov/oc/initiatives/counterfeit/report02_04.html
http://www.arcweb.com/Community/indnews/display.asp?id=5348
http://www.forrester.com/Research/Document/0,7211,34540,00.html
http://www.forrester.com/Research/Document/Excerpt/0,7211,33750,00.html
http://www.forrester.com/ER/Research/Brief/0,1317,15975,00.html
http://www.forrester.com/ER/Research/Report/0,1338,32916,00.html
http://www.abiresearch.com/abiprdisplay2.jsp?pressid=208
http://www.abiresearch.com/mediadirect.jsp?id=390
http://www.amrresearch.com/content/resourcecenter.asp?id=431
http://www.metagroup.com/us/displayArticle.do?oid=48434
http://www.yankeegroup.com/yg_research/BAC/Audio%20Conference/BAC-11459/BAC-11459.pdf
http://www.microsoft.com/windowsmobile/resources/casestudies/CaseStudy.asp?CaseStudyID=13683

RFID Standards

Current and emerging standards for RFID Technology fall into three categories: air interface, data formats, and software APIs.

Air Interface

The "air interface" refers to the frequency spectra used for RFID transmission, the characteristics of the transmitted signals, the encoding used to map data onto those signals, and the framing of data into packets of information.

The ISO (International Standards Organization) asserts jurisdiction over the air interface for RFID through standards-in-development ISO 18000-1 through 18000-7. These are represented in the United States by ANSI and the FCC. The frequencies available in the US are:

  • 135 kHz—Low Frequency (LF)
  • 13.56 MHz—High Frequency (HF)
  • 915 MHz—Ultra High Frequency (UHF)
  • 2.45 GHz—Microwave (UHF)
  • 5.8 GHz—Microwave (SHF) newer and not yet common

These standards are developed jointly by the ISO and IEC (International Electro technical Commission) through JTC1/SC31 (Joint Task Committee 1/Special Committee 31), usually abbreviated "JTC1".

  • The ITU (International Telecommunication Union) also has some RFID standards activity, but they may have ceded the actual standards definition to JTC1.
  • The AutoID Center at MIT has also issued a specification for the air interface for RFID tags. This lies in the 915 MHz (UHF) range. JTC1 is concerned about possible conflicts with their own standard, though the AutoID Center is attempting to operate within the relevant ISO standard. AutoID may be pushing on this issue because of the typical length of time required to finalize ISO standards.

Data Format

Data formats are generally not standardized at this time. Each RFID supplier creates tags with idiosyncratic memory characteristics, and each installation assigns data to that memory in a custom way. Almost all data formats in use today are read/write formats, in which there is a block of data that can be both read and written to by "readers." The writable portion may be from 4 to 32K bytes. Typical values are 100 to 1K bytes. Sometimes, there is also a read-only portion assigned by the tag manufacturer, up to 8 bytes, used for a "tag ID".

  • A fairly universal model at the physical level, applying to essentially all available tags, would be:
    • Zero or one block of read-only data.
    • Zero or more blocks of read/write data. All read/write blocks are the same size.
  • The ISO is attempting to formulate some industry-specific standards through TC 104 and TC 122; the US representative in this activity is ANSI in conjunction with the Material Handling Institute (ANSI/MHI).
  • The AutoID Center is developing a tag format for read-only tags using a new code called the EPC (Electronic Product Code), in conjunction with the UCC (Uniform Code Council). This is intended to be compatible at some level with the EAN/UCC system used for commercial bar codes, and therefore with the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN). The EPC has several variations based on 64, 96, or 256 bits, with several variations of the 256-bit tag format. Each defines these bit-fields:
    • EPC tag format identification
    • Manufacturer
    • Product class code
    • Serial number (unique for each tag)
    • Checksum

The intention of the AutoID Center is that these tags will be attached to everyday products, and will continue to be in use after purchase (for example, in the home or on personal clothing). Therefore, after purchase, the serial number on a tag becomes personally identifiable information (PII) in Microsoft terminology. This is the source for many highly publicized concerns about privacy in RFID technology. Note that this issue arises only for the AutoID EPC format tags, and only when used to tag individually purchased items. These concerns do not apply to supply-chain applications, particularly when tags are applied to shipping containers or cartons.

Software API

There is no widespread standard for the software API for RFID; each hardware supplier furnishes its own driver or SDK. In some cases, the hardware supplier also provides a higher-level solution, perhaps even up to the level of a SQL database to present the tag data. Service Providers (SPs) also create their own software for use in the solutions they create for customers.

The AutoID Center is developing a proposal for software APIs at multiple levels, specifically for tags that meet their EPC specification:

  • A standard command set for reader-tag communications.
  • An event-queue process (called Savant) with a standardized API. Actually there are two APIs, one for the lowest level Savants, which defines a queue in main memory, and the other for higher-level Savant queues that are accessible through the LAN.

Since the AutoID tags are read-only, no actual data about the specific object can be stored in the tag. Therefore, the AutoID concept is that the data will be stored on the Internet, and the EPC stored in the tag is used as an index to locate the data. This introduces several more proposed standards:

  • A format for the data called Physical Markup Language (PML), based on XML.
  • An interface to the servers containing PML records.
  • A directory service called ONS (Object Naming Service), analogous to the DNS. Given a tag's EPC, the ONS will provide pointers to the PML servers containing records related to that tag.

All the software specifications from the AutoID Center are written in and for Java.

The following table summarizes the different standards.

Standard CodeNameDescription
JTC 1/SC 31Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) TechniqueTo standardize data formats, data structures, data encoding, and technologies for AIDC. This includes the data carriers, data syntax, and conformance. Among its for work groups work group 4 (WG4) working on RFID for Item Management working with ISO/ IEC 18000 and 18001 for the interoperability of data across frequencies throughout the supply chain.
JTC 1/ SC 17Identification Cards and Related DevicesFocuses on testing and standardizing the embossing characteristics, magnetic strip, etc., of identification cards and other documents across applications and industries.
ISO TC 104/SC 4Identification and CommunicationPertains to identifying and presenting information for freight containers.
ISO TC 23 /SC 19Agricultural ElectronicsPertains to code structure, technical concepts, and AI interfaces for using RFID technology with animals.
CEN TC 278Road Transport and Traffic TelematicsIf adopted, the standard (established in 1991) would be instrumental in standardizing the identification of vehicles, communication between two or more vehicles, traffic and parking management, and user collection fees.
CEN/TC 23/SC 3/WG 3Transportable Gas Cylinders, Operational Requirements, Identification of Cylinders and Contents.To establish a common data structure framework for identifying gas cylinders and other common data elements in this sector. The scheme and reference model architecture is designed to coordinate different commercial systems, and is not prescriptive in determining any one system. It is neither frequency- nor air interface protocol-specific, provides maximum interoperability, has a high population capability, and provides the possibility of upwards migration to more capable systems.
ISO/ TC204Transport Information and Control SystemTo standardize information, communication, and control systems in urban and rural surface transportation. Including inter-modal and multimodal aspects, traveler information, traffic management, public transport, commercial transport, emergency services, and commercial services in the intelligent transport systems (ITS) field.
ETSIEuropean Telecommunications Standard InstitutePertains to the electromagnetic compatibility and radio frequencies abilities of RFID tags and readers, particularly for short range devices.
EROEuropean Radio Communications OfficePertains to recommendations for frequency adoption for short range devices.
ANSIAmerican National Standard InstituteDefines a single application program interface (API), which will serve as a unifying platform shared by all compliant RFID implementations and provide a common interface to application programs. This common API will help to encourage widespread manufacturer competition and subsequent market expansion while the market for RFID item management becomes established.
Universal Postal UnionIdentification/Codification standards on Postal ItemsDefines data communication regarding postal items and batches.
ASTMASTM PS111-98Standard Provisional Specification for Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) Physical Layer Using Microwave in the 902 to 928 MHz Band. This provisional specification defines an air interface for both wide-area (multilane, open road) and lane-based applications that enables accurate and valid message delivery between moving vehicles randomly entering a communications zone and fixed roadside communication equipment. This air interface also enables accurate and valid message delivery between moving or stationary vehicles and fixed or portable roadside communication equipment.
ISO/IEC JTC1 SC31/WG4/SG3Air Interface StandardsThe Air Interface standards are being worked by the AutoId.org Inc, and they have comprehensive documentation posted at http://www.autoid.org/SC31/sc_31_wg4_sg3.htm.
GTAGInternational Standardization for a Global Tag, sponsored by UCC and EANDetails a structured approach to create a global performance standard for RFID. The standard would also facilitate mapping of the relation between tags and readers, and how their overall communication would take place.
Show:
© 2014 Microsoft