Chapter 1: Introduction – RFID for Libraries

1

Introduction

In an era marked by change, uncertain economic conditions, and relentless competition, organizations are striving to attain process efficiencies that will enable them to drive down costs and provide competitive advantage. The evolution and application of technologies have always played a key role in improving operational performances. Technological advancements open the door for new applications that were not imaginable or possible before. As new technology is developed and its potential is proven, organizations contemplate using it in processes and equipment that can generate value for their customers while improving their organization’s operational performance in terms of cost, quality, speed, and flexibility. Organizations are also applying advanced technologies to strengthen managerial ability to enhance organizational change and growth for better operations (Apte et al., 2006).

Organizations utilize modern information systems (IS) to acquire, interpret, retain, and distribute information. Innovations in information technology (IT) continue to improve the cost-performance capabilities of organizations to perform these four basic IS tasks. For example, the Internet has dramatically altered the capability of the firm to acquire external data and distribute it throughout and beyond the organization. Intelligent agents and knowledge management systems allow managers to interpret data and information to create useful managerial knowledge. Technical improvements in storage media allow firms to amass vast data warehouses, while ever increasing processing power allows managers to mine their data for useful information about their operations, existing customers, and potential markets. Further, advances in technology-based real-time information gathering and decision support systems promote real-time decision making that allow firms to refine operational performance (Curtin et al., 2007).

Throughout history, there has been a need to identify ‘things.’ By identifying things, we can sort, classify, request, ship, account for, and look for specific objects. We can do so for our personal use, for business purposes, and even for governmental functions. As a society, we have come to expect that certain ‘things’ would be – must be – uniquely identified. Today, we are uniquely identified by a variety of entities, including (Wyld, 2005):

 by the government, through social security numbers;

 by employers, through employee ID numbers;

 by universities, through student ID numbers;

 by insurers, banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions, through account numbers.

While we have seen it is historically necessary to uniquely identify such highly important assets as ourselves, the vast majority of ‘things’ have remained identified by their class, category, or type. Until two decades ago, the human eye served as the primary mechanism for discriminating between objects of different types, whether they are different species of trees, different brands of ketchup, or different forms of munitions. However, with the advent of barcode technology, for the first time, machines – in addition to people – could identify objects (Wyld, 2005).

Ever since barcode became the dominant standard in the last century, there were many theorists and practitioners who realized that there are great limitations to its use and further development. These people were looking for something else: new technology, a new approach, something that will be able to satisfy the ever increasing variety of demand for ‘next generation barcode.’ While many were searching for the answer in the new ‘space age’ technology, others realized that the technology was already there, in radio waves. Using radio waves was in many ways superior to what barcode was able to provide to its users. The good abilities of radio waves and their attributes were well known; so they had numerous applications such as radio broadcasting, wireless telegraphy, telephone transmission, television, radar, navigational systems, and space communication (Bumbak, 2005).

However, many modern technologies give the impression that they work by magic, particularly when they operate automatically and their mechanisms are invisible. A technology called radio frequency identification (RFID), which is relatively new to the mass market, has exactly this characteristic and seems a lot like magic to many people. RFID is an electronic tagging technology that allows an object, place, or person to be automatically identified at a distance without a direct line-of-sight, using electromagnetic waves (Want, 2004).

The term ‘RFID’ has become a general term used to describe sensory technology that uses radio waves to scan and identify separate and distinct items. RFID is only one of numerous technologies grouped under automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) technologies, such as barcode, magnetic inks, optical character recognition, voice recognition, touch memory, smart cards, biometrics, etc. AIDC technologies have been used for decades to increase accuracy and efficiency in the data collection process for many activities. At their core, all AIDC technologies support two common goals:

 to eliminate errors associated with identification and/or data collection, and

 to accelerate the throughput process.

RFID is a representative technology of AIDC technologies. Barcoding and RFID provide quick, more accurate, and cost-effective ways to identify, track, acquire and manage data and information about items, personnel, transactions, and resources. With RFID technology, we have the advantages of faster and multiple ID recognition, easy to use operational interface, etc., compared to the barcode system, which has been the dominating AIDC technology (Chao et al., 2005).

Although RFID technology has been around for a long time, it has only had a surge in its acceptance and a massive growth in its use in the last few years. Several developments have sped up the adoption of the technology:

 First, technical standards are being established.

 Second, the cost of the tags has come down.

 Third, mandates to use RFID are being issued by major retailers and organizations.

The use of RFID technology creates opportunities in all realms of life – for business, science, government, and leisure-time activities. RFID can optimize processes, facilitate traceability, guarantee authenticity, improve product safety, boost efficiency, and simplify access control. RFID has recently emerged as one of the emerging technologies for asset tracking, inventory management, supply chain management, payment systems, information sharing, access control, and security using radio waves. Industries with the greatest opportunities to use RFID include retail, aerospace, defense, health care, logistics, pharmaceutical organizations, and libraries.

What is RFID?

Technology, over time, allows for the improvement and creation of better products and devices. Often the new technology is phased in over long periods of time while still being refined. However, on occasion there is a new technology so potent that it is implemented in a flurry, and so quietly and pervasively that the typical user may be using it without understanding how it works or what are its possible implications. Perhaps there is no better example of such a situation than with the current and future utilization of RFID, which will soon exist in every object created. RFID is a rapidly emerging technology that will surely have a dramatic global impact on how goods are exchanged and how authenticity and security are provided, so much to the point that the technology will become integrated into people’s daily lives and help drive business for the next few decades (Gragg, 2003).

At first glance, the concept of RFID and its application seems simple and straightforward. But in reality, the contrary is true. RFID is a technology that spans systems engineering, software development, circuit theory, antenna theory, radio propagation, microwave techniques, receiver design, integrated circuit design, encryption, materials technology, mechanical design, and network engineering, to mention a few.

RFID stands for radio frequency identification. Considered as a wireless AIDC technology, RFID refers not only to the tag containing a chip but also to an antenna for sending and receiving data, an interrogator, also called reader, and its antennas to communicate through radio frequency with the tag, and finally, a middleware that manages, filters, aggregates and routes the data captured. All these elements are essential to constitute a ‘basic’ RFID system (Asif and Mandviwalla, 2005).

RFID has been around for some 50 years, but lack of relevant technological knowledge prevented its development. Now, thanks to recent achievements in information and communication technologies, RFID can be used in many more situations, particularly in business processes (Smith, 2004). RFID technology builds a bridge between the physical world of a product and the virtual world of digital data (Heng, 2004). Although it is often thought that RFID and barcodes are competitive technologies, they are in fact complementary in some aspects. RFID helps overcome some of the drawbacks associated with barcode technology. Barcodes have one significant downfall – they require line-of-sight technology. That means the scanner has to see the barcode to read it, which usually means items have to be manually oriented towards the scanner for it to be read. Compared to barcodes, RFID tags are ‘smarter:’ the information on the microchip can be read automatically, at a distance, by another wireless machine. This means RFID is easier to use and more efficient than barcodes: there is no need to pass each individual object/animal/person in front of a scanner to retrieve the information contained in each tag. Following are significant advantages to using RFID tags:

 RFID tags can be read rapidly in bulk to provide a nearly simultaneous reading of contents, such as items in a stockroom or in a container.

 RFID tags can be read in no-line-of-sight conditions (e.g. inside packaging or pallet).

 RFID tags are more durable than barcodes and can withstand chemical and heat environments that would destroy traditional barcode labels. Barcode technology does not work if the label is damaged.

 RFID tags can potentially contain a greater amount of data compared to barcodes, which commonly contain only static information such as the manufacturer and product identification. Therefore tags can be used to uniquely identify an object.

 RFID tags do not require any human intervention for data transmission.

RFID tags can be placed on all kinds of objects such as consumer goods, shipping containers, high-value equipment, and even human beings so that their movement and location can be easily tracked. RFID systems also can be linked with video security systems. Linking video and access control are good ideas for night applications. A camera can pan-tilt-zoom and also link the access control transaction history with camera data to look at events triggered in the systems.

History of RFID

It is difficult to trace the history of RFID technology back to a well-defined starting point as there is no clear progression of RFID developments over time that ultimately arrives at the present state of matters. The origins of RFID technology lie in the nineteenth century when luminaries of that era made great scientific advances in electromagnetism. Of particular relevance to RFID are: Michael Faraday’s discovery of electronic inductance, James Clerk Maxwell’s formulation of equations describing electromagnetism, and Heinrich Rudolf Hertz’s experiments validating Faraday and Maxwell’s predictions. Their discoveries laid the foundation for modern radio communications. The history of RFID technology is intertwined with that of many other communications technologies developed throughout the twentieth century. These technologies include computers, information technology, mobile phones, wireless LANs, satellite communications, GPS, etc. Research and advances in the following three areas have given rise to commercially viable RFID (Michalek and Vaculik, 2008):

 Radio frequency electronics. Research in this field, as applied to RFID, was begun during World War II and continued through the 1970s. The antenna systems and RF electronics employed by RFID interrogators and tags have been made possible because of radio frequency electronic research and development.

 Information technology. Research in this field began in the mid-1970s and continued through to roughly the mid-1990s. Both the host computer and the interrogator/reader employ this technology. The networking of RFID readers has also been made possible by research in this area.

 Materials science. Breakthroughs in materials science technology in the 1990s finally made RFID tags cheap to manufacture and this has overcome cost barriers to make RFID technology commercially viable.

RFID had been hyped as a revolutionary new technology in recent years. But like the Internet, RFID has a long history stretching back to early applications in the military. The US and UK governments used an early form of RFID on airplanes in World War II to determine if the plane was a friend or a foe. Perhaps the first work exploring RFID is the landmark 1948 paper by Harry Stockman, entitled ‘Communication by Means of Reflected Power’ (Stockman, 1948). Stockman predicted that ‘… considerable research and development work has to be done before the remaining basic problems in reflected-power communication are solved, and before the field of useful applications is explored.’ It required thirty years of advances in many different fields before RFID became a reality. Table 1.1 illustrates the history of RFID since 1940 (Landt, 2001).

Table 1.1

History of RFID

Decade Event
1941–1950 Radar refined and used, major World War II development effort. RFID invented in 1948.
1951–1960 Early explorations of RFID technology, laboratory experiments.
1961–1970 Development of the theory of RFID. Start of applications field trials.
1971–1980 Explosion of RFID development.
Tests of RFID accelerate.
Very early adopter implementations of RFID.
1981–1990 Commercial applications of RFID enter mainstream.
1991–present Emergence of standards.
RFID widely deployed.
RFID becomes a part of everyday life.

RFID adoption

Technology innovation is widely recognized as an important driver of business transformation and economic growth. History tells us that the path to acceptance within the business community can be long for technological innovations. For example, the Internet has its origins in the late 1960s and 1970s, and did not reach wide acceptance until the late 1990s. The primary catalyst for widespread adoption came with a change in the business perceptions of value based on the advent of fast, reliable, and low-cost hypertext markup language applications. In other words, the perceived benefits or risks that are held by the users of each technological innovation influence the rate of acceptance (Venkatesh et al., 2003).

Rogers (2003) introduces five factors that accelerate or slow down the adoption and diffusion of innovations:

 relative advantage;

 complexity;

 trialability;

 observeability;

 compatibility.

Relative advantage expresses the degree to which a new technology or innovation is perceived as being superior to that currently used. The degree of relative advantage is often described as economic profitability (e.g. by reducing costs), as conveying social prestige (e.g. status seeking/motivation), or in other ways. The higher the relative advantage of an innovation is perceived by members of a social system, the more likely is its adoption. The complexity of an innovation is the degree to which it is perceived as relatively difficult to understand, to implement in an existing infrastructure, and to use. The complexity of an innovation, as perceived by members of a social system, is negatively related to its rate of adoption. Trialability is the degree to which an innovation and especially a new technology may be experimented with on a limited basis. For example, RFID pilot studies provide first experiences if the technology is able to work under a company’s conditions and in a certain environment. The trialability of an innovation, as perceived by the members of a social system, is also positively related to its rate of adoption. Observeability is the degree to which the results or increases in efficiency of an innovation are visible to others. For example, a decrease of stock-outs is more visible than an improvement of a single piece of hardware of a computer system. Therefore, the observeability of an innovation, as perceived by the members of a social system, is positively related to its rate of adoption. Compatibility is the degree to which an innovation is experienced as consistent with the needs, past experiences, and existing values of potential adopters. Additionally, compatibility describes the fit and ease of integration of a technology into an existing (IT) infrastructure and is consequently positively related to the rate of adoption.

The progress of RFID adoption divides naturally into following eras (Glover and Bhatt, 2006):

 the Proprietary era;

 the Compliance era;

 the RFID-Enabled Enterprise era;

 the RFID-Enabled Industries era; and

 the Internet of Things era.

In the beginning, during the Proprietary era, businesses and governmental entities created systems designed to track one particular type of item, and this tracking information typically remained within the same business or governmental entity. In the Compliance era (the present era), businesses implement RFID to meet mandates for interoperability with important customers or regulatory agencies but often don’t use the RFID data themselves. The future will bring the era of the RFID-Enabled Enterprise, where organizations will use RFID information to improve their own processes. The era of RFID-Enabled Industries will see RFID information shared among partners over robust and secure networks according to well-established standards. The final RFID era that is currently foreseeable is the era of the Internet of Things. By this time, the ubiquity of RFID technology and other enabling technologies, combined with high standards and customer demand for unique products based on this infrastructure, will lead to a revolutionary change in the way we perceive the relationship between information and physical objects and locations. More and more, we will expect most objects in our daily lives to exist both in a particular place, with particular properties, and in the information spaces we inhabit.

RFID standards

The need for standards has become apparent to almost every one. Standardization is an important aspect of any technology from its incubation through to maturity. Standardization is advantageous for both vendors and customers. For vendors, the benefits of standardization include:

 market broadening and global competition;

 products and applications interoperability;

 cost reduction;

 fast technology acceptance and technology advancement.

For customers, standards help to achieve the following objectives:

 increase confidence in a new technology;

 facilitate applications development and reduce customization;

 reduce cost for equipment and software;

 increase decision flexibility;

 allow development of non-proprietary solutions that are not confined within one customer’s organization.

Any technology is best applied in the industry when it is generally available for multiple sources and interoperability. The purpose of standardization is to define the most efficient platform on which an industry can operate and advance. Poor standardization might cancel any benefit of the technology. Two kinds of standards affect RFID:

1. Hardware or technology standards address equipment issues.

2. Software or application standards address the arrangement and handling of the data that is handled by the equipment. RFID readers and tags must conform to the same standards and designs to be interoperable. These standards and designs also can be used to coordinate the use of certain tags across multiple enterprises and in the supply chain. Common standards and designs may facilitate training, future equipment procurement, and equipment upgrades. Some readers and some tags can operate using multiple standards.

One of the factors propelling RFID technology to prominence today is the fact that the RFID industry through the extraordinary collaboration of vendors, retailers, manufacturers, governments, and academic institutions is forging a set of standards for RFID technology. Several RFID standards exist and their applications are under debate within the RFID development community. These standards cover (Weinstein, 2005):

 identification, the coding of unique item identifiers, or other data on the RF tag;

 data and system protocols, effectively the middleware of an RFID system;

 the air interface, that is, the wireless communication between the reader and the tag;

 application support, which provides advice about how to implement the technology;

 testing, compliance, and health and safety, that is, the rules that govern RFID operations; and

 terminology.

There are three major advantages of developing international standards for RFID systems. First of all, a common RFID standard will ensure interoperability among tags and readers manufactured by different vendors and allow for seamless interoperation across national boundaries. Second, due to compatibility and exchangeability, the demand for RFID components and equipment will be high, and that can bring the cost down. Finally, an internationally accepted RFID standard will facilitate the growth of the worldwide RFID market.

Standardization is expected to go hand-in-hand with market adoption. If prices continue to drop, technology continues to improve and applications continue to increase, the electronic security industry could find many more places to utilize RFID technology in the future.

Two organizations are mostly involved in drafting standards for RFID technology: the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and EPCglobal (electronic product code). The ISO is responsible for a variety of standards, regulating air interfaces, data protocols, and applications, for instance. The standard developed by EPCglobal is directed primarily at trade, allocating different products a unique code similar to barcode. There are separate standards for contactless smart cards and for item management. The following are the most popular RFID standards (Karygiannis et al., 2007):

 ISO/IEC 14443 describes proximity smart cards that have an intermediate range up to 10 cm and operate at 13.56 MHz. The standard contains four parts:

1. physical characteristics;

2. radio frequency power and signaling;

3. initialization and anti-collision; and

4. transmission protocols.

ISO/IEC 14443 has two variants known as ISO/IEC 14443A and ISO/IEC 14443B, which have different communications interfaces. Readers who are ISO/IEC 14443 compliant must be able to communicate using ISO/ IEC 14443A and ISO/IEC 14443B. ISO/IEC 14443A parts 1 through 4 are used in the DoD Common Access Card (CAC), which serves as an identification card.

 ISO/IEC 15693 operates at 13.56 MHz and describes vicinity smart cards that can be read from a further distance than proximity cards. Such cards have a range of up to approximately 1 meter. The ISO 15693 specification has three main parts:

– physical characteristics;

– signal interface; and

– transmission protocol.

It holds the promise of interoperability (at the technical level) among different suppliers of RFID solutions.

ISO 15693 is not to be confused with ISO 15963 that is used for RFID for item management – unique identification of RF tag.

 ISO/IEC 18000 is an RFID standard for item management and describes the air interface for various frequencies. Each standard within the ISO/IEC 18000 family defines communication parameters and applies to a specific electromagnetic frequency (Karygiannis et al., 2007):

– ISO/IEC 18000-1 covers general parameters and ISO/IEC 18000-2 through 18000-7 cover specifics for particular frequency ranges.

– ISO/IEC 18000-2 covers frequencies below 135 kHz. It has two types, A (full duplex) and B (half duplex). These types are different on the physical layer. A full duplex tag can communicate with a reader while the reader is simultaneously communicating with the tag. A half duplex tag supports bi-directional communication with a reader but only one device, the tag or the reader, can communicate at a time.

– ISO/IEC 18000-3 covers frequencies operating at 13.56 MHz and describes two non-interfering and not interoperable modes of operation. Both modes use a 64-bit identifier:

 Mode 1 has a locking feature that is not protected by a password. If the tag receives the lock command, it locks the corresponding area of memory permanently. Lock can be applied selectively to different blocks of memory.

 Mode 2 has a 48-bit password used to protect memory access. The tag can be configured to require or not require this password. If required, then read and write commands will require the reader to issue the correct 48-bit password. The lock command can be used to permanently write protect a block of memory. Mode 2 also has a 16-bit lock pointer that is located in unaddressable memory. The lock pointer points to a word in memory. All complete blocks of memory at addresses less than the number stored in the lock pointer cannot be overwritten.

– ISO/IEC 18000-4 covers systems operating at 2.45 GHz. This standard has two modes: a passive tag reader-talksfirst mode and a battery assisted tag-talks-first mode.

– ISO/IEC 18000-5 was developed for 5.8 GHz operation but this standard was withdrawn.

– ISO/IEC 18000-6 defines three types of tags. Types A and B operate at 860–930 MHz, but they use different encoding and anti-collision methods on the forward channel. Type C is equivalent to the EPCglobal Class-1 Generation-2 standard.

– ISO/IEC 18000-7 is an RTF protocol for an RFID system that operates at 433 MHz. Tags have a 32-bit tag ID and a 16-bit manufacturer ID. Readers are given a 16-bit identifier as well. A 32-bit password can be set on the tags. A bit, referred to as the ‘secure bit’ in the standard, is set to determine if the tag is password protected or not. If protected, read/write of the user ID, user ID length, routing code, and memory are password protected. ISO/IEC 18000-7 supports optional command database query commands that are transmitted to all tags. The queries are sent in multiple steps and can use logical operators such as clear, and, and/or, and relational operators such as equal, less than, greater than, and not. Tags that receive all steps of the query will do an internal database search and readers can retrieve the results of these queries.

The current standard used in libraries ISO 15693 was not designed for the item-level tracking done in libraries. Yet, most library RFID tags follow this standard. ISO 15693 was designed for supply chain applications. It defines the physical characteristics, air interface, and communication protocol for RFID cards (Molnar and Wagner, 2004; R. Moroz Ltd., 2004).

Library RFID applications must be able to integrate with the library’s integrated library systems (ILS). The two most popular protocols that facilitate the smooth integration of RFID products and ILS are SIP2 (Standard Interchange Protocol 2) and NCIP (NISO Circulation Interchange Protocol). Standard Interchange Protocol (SIP) was originally developed and published by 3 M to allow their self-issue machines to exchange circulation messages with library systems. Features include identification of borrower and issuing material. SIP2 (version 2 of SIP) is the de-facto standard for the exchange of circulation data and transactions between different systems. It is now in use by a variety of self-issue systems, telephone renewals, PC bookings software, library security systems, and RFID systems. Over the years, shortcomings have been identified in SIP2 and the standard has been diluted as vendors attempt to modify the protocol to suit their needs. To address the shortcomings of SIP2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) convened a standards development group with the mission of designing a protocol that would encourage interoperability among disparate circulation, interlibrary loan, self-service, and related applications. The outcome of this group was NCIP. NCIP was approved by NISO in 2002.

ISO 28560, which was still a draft standard as of mid-2009, is essential to interoperability among RFID systems. The adoption of ISO 28560 will not guarantee interoperability as vendors may still seek to encrypt the data on their tags, add proprietary security functions, and/or include software or firmware that is system dependent and can only be used with specific tags (Boss, 2007).

RFID system components

The purpose of an RFID system is to enable data to be transmitted by a mobile device, called a tag, which is read by an RFID reader and processed according to the needs of a particular application. RFID tags and readers have to be tuned to the same frequency to communicate. In a typical RFID system, individual objects are equipped with a small, inexpensive tag, which contains a digital memory chip that is given a unique electronic product code. The interrogator, an antenna packaged with a transceiver and decoder, emits a signal that activates the RFID tag so it can data read from and write to it. When an RFID tagged item passes through the electromagnetic zone, it detects the reader’s activation signal. The reader decodes the data encoded in the tag’s integrated circuit (silicon chip) and the data is passed on to the host computer for processing. Figure 1.1 illustrates the functional components of RFID system.

Figure 1.1 RFID system components Source: Candino et al. (2009).

RFID systems may be roughly grouped into four categories (AIM):

 Electronic article surveillance (EAS) systems. These are typically a one bit system used to sense the presence/absence of an item. The large use for this technology is in retail stores where each item is tagged and a large antenna readers are placed at each exit of the store to detect unauthorized removal of the item (theft).

 Portable data capture systems. These are characterized by the use of portable data terminals with integrated RFID readers and are used in applications where a high degree of variability in sourcing required data from tagged items may be exhibited. The hand-held readers/portable data terminals capture data, which is then either transmitted directly to a host information management system via a radio frequency data communication (RFDC) link or held for delivery by line-linkage to the host on a batch processing basis.

 Networked systems. These applications can generally be characterized by fixed position readers deployed within a given site and connected directly to a networked information management system. The transponders are positioned on moving or moveable items, or people, depending upon application.

 Positioning systems. These use transponders to facilitate automated location and navigation support for guided vehicles. Readers are positioned on the vehicles and linked to an on-board computer and RFDC link to the host information management system. The transponders are embedded in the floor of the operating environment and programmed with appropriate identification and location data. The reader antenna is usually located beneath the vehicle to allow closer proximity to the embedded transponders.

RFID systems differ very significantly from one another in their features. These differences pertain to (Heng, 2009):

 degree of freedom (open vs. closed);

 data storage (centralized vs. decentralized);

 data processing (real-time vs. batch-processing);

 physical form (e.g. earmark, ceramic bolus, glass encapsulation for implantation, nail, and smart label);

 storage capacity;

 energy supply (with/without battery);

 writability of the RFID tag (e.g. read-only; write-once-read-many; read-and-write);

 radio frequency (from low frequency [LF] to ultrahigh frequency [UHF]).

RFID systems can also be distinguished by their frequency ranges and applications as given in Table 1.2.

Table 1.2

Different RFID frequencies and their applications

RFID systems may comprise the following components (Lahiri, 2005):

 Tag. This is a mandatory component of any RFID system.

 Reader. This is a mandatory component, too.

 Reader antenna. This is another mandatory component. Some current readers available today have built-in antennas.

 Controller. This is a mandatory component. However, most of the new-generation readers have this component built in to them.

 Sensor, actuator, and annunciator. These optional components are needed for external input and output of the system.

 Host and software system. Theoretically, an RFID system can function independently without this component. Practically, an RFID system is close to worthless without this component.

 Communication infrastructure. This mandatory component is a collection of both wired and wireless network and serial connection infrastructure needed to connect the components together to effectively communicate with each other.

As discussion of RFID technology tends to focus mainly on tags and readers, let us look at them in detail.

RFID tag

RFID tags, also called transponders, are the heart of an RFID system because they store the information that describes the object being tracked. Specific object information is stored in the memory of tags and is accessed via the radio signal of RFID readers. RFID tags that perform the data carriage consist of a microchip with some computation and storage capabilities, and a coupling element such as an antenna coil for communication that are packaged so that they can be attached to objects (Tellkamp, 2006). There are many different types of tags they and can be classified according to two main criteria:

 the type of memory: read-only, write-once-read-many, or fully rewritable;

 the source of power: active, semi-active, semi-passive, and passive.

Following is a brief description of different types of tags (NIST, 2007):

 Passive tags do not possess their own battery. They depend on the energy provided by the reader both for receiving and sending data. Due to power restrictions, the operating range is lower than that for active tags, but passive tags are significantly cheaper than active tags (Figure 1.2).

Figure 1.2 RFID passive tags

 Active tags have their own internal battery that is used to power the microchip and to send data to the reader. They thus attain higher read ranges and can read weaker signals than passive tags. Furthermore, they are able to transmit data over long distances and face less interference problems (e.g. metal and water) than passive tags. However, active tags are more expensive than passive tags and the lifespan of batteries is limited (Figure 1.3).

Figure 1.3 RFID active tags

 Semi-active tags remain dormant until they receive a signal from the reader. Therefore, they have a longer battery life than that of active tags. Similar to active tags, semi-active tags can rely on their battery to transmit data to the reader.

 Semi-passive tags also rely on a battery to power the microchip, but use the energy provided by the reader to transmit data. Compared to passive tags, semi-passive tags have more power for internal functions. They are for instance used to power integrated sensors.

 Read-only tags contain data such as a serialized tracking numbers, which are pre-written onto them by the tag manufacturer or distributor. Read-only tags are generally the least expensive, because they cannot have any additional information included as they move throughout the supply chain. Any updates to that information have to be maintained in the application software that tracks the stock unit’s movement and activity.

 Write-once tags enable a user to write data to the tag one time during production or distribution. This information can be a serial number or other data, such as a lot or batch number.

 Full read-write tags allow new data to be written to the tag as needed and written over the original data.

RFID tags come in a range of shapes and sizes. The following are the most common ones:

 label: the tag is a flat, thin, flexible form;

 ticket: a flat, thin, flexible tag on paper;

 card: a flat, thin tag embedded in tough plastic for long life;

 glass bead: a small tag in a cylindrical glass bead, used for applications such as animal tagging (e.g. under the skin);

 integrated: the tag is integrated into the object it is tagging rather than applied as a separate label;

 wristband: a tag inserted into a plastic wrist strap.

Given that RFID tags will not replace barcoded labels any time soon, it is important to understand the distinct differences between these two auto-identification technologies. In comparison to RFID technology, the main advantages of the barcode include significantly cheaper tags and in the majority of cases less expensive readers. In addition to this, there are no interferences due to water or metal as it is the case for RFID. Another important point is the better control of scanned data. For example, when different barcode-labeled cases on a pallet are scanned and errors occur, it is usually obvious that cases have not been scanned correctly. However, if errors occur when RFID-tagged cases are read in bulk, it is more complicated and time consuming to detect, for example, which cases have not been read at all. However, there are also a number of significant disadvantages when compared to RFID technology. At first, barcodes are not very robust as compared to RFID tags. Poor weather conditions such as rain or extreme temperatures as well as dirt render barcode labels inoperable. In terms of data storage, storage capacity does not attain the same level as for RFID tags. Furthermore, once the particular barcode is generated, data cannot be changed or augmented and therefore it is not possible to store additional data during the production process (Hodges and McFarlane, 2005). In addition to this, it is not possible to obtain the same level of high read ranges as with RFID technology. Finally, integration of other technologies such as sensor technology is unrealizable. The disadvantages of barcodes on the technological level mirror the image of technological benefits of RFID technology. Table 1.3 summarizes these differences (Shutzberg, 2004).

Table 1.3

Difference between barcode labels and RFID tags

Barcoded labels RFID tags
Inexpensive (but not reusable) Costly (though potentially reusable)
Reliable to read Not always reliable to read
Work with virtually all products Work with most products but have trouble with some (such as those containing metals and liquids)
Can be printed before production or printed directly on items Must be programmed, applied, and verified individually, and data synchronization is usually required
Must be read one at a time and line of sight is required Many tags can be read simultaneously and no line of sight is required
Written once with limited data Can potentially be written multiple times, have higher capacity, and can be combined with sensors
Have a limited read range Can have a longer read range

RFID reader

The RFID reader, also called transceiver, is the central nervous system of the entire RFID hardware system, establishing communication with and control of this component is the most important task of any entity, which seeks integration with this hardware entity. RFID readers are generally composed of an RF module, a control unit, and a coupling element to interrogate RFID tags via RF communication. Readers may have better internal storage and processing capabilities, and frequently connect to back-end databases. RFID readers are devices that convert radio waves from RFID tags into a form that can be passed to middleware software. Reader requirements vary depending on the type of task and application, and almost all applications will require multiple forms of readers to make a successful system. There are a variety of different reading systems and technologies. These include (Peris-Lopez et al., 2006):

 handheld readers that act like a handheld bar code scanner;

 RFID readers embedded into mobile data collection devices;

 fixed readers, which are mounted to read tags automatically as items pass by or near them.

The RFID readers perform a variety of functions, such as activating tags by sending querying signals, supplying power to passive tags, encoding the data signals going to the tag, and finally, decoding the data received from the tag. RFID readers communicate with tags through the method of induction known as inductive coupling. When an RFID tag passes through the field of a reader’s antenna, tag’s antenna detects the activation signal from the reader’s antenna. The R F radiation activates the tag chip, which in turn will execute the commands from the reader; either it will write information on memory or it will transmit the information on its microchip to be picked up by the reader. The information received by the reader will be demodulated and de-codified and sent to the application database through a middleware. RFID middleware provides the interface for communication between the reader and existing databases and information management systems.

There are several characteristics of an RFID reader that determine the types of tags with which it can communicate. The most fundamental characteristic is the frequency or frequencies at which the reader’s radio communicates. Readers and tags must communicate at the same frequency in order for them to couple. But, some RFID readers called dual-frequency readers can communicate at more than one frequency. Most RFID readers communicate exclusively with active tags or exclusively with passive tags. This means that an RFID reader that is manufactured to communicate with passive tags will not be able to communicate with active tags and vice versa. There may be RFID readers that can communicate with both, but, if they exist, they are not the norm. When implementing a solution that uses passive RFID tags, a reader capable of interfacing with passive tags must be employed. A key feature of an RFID reader is the number of tags that it can sample in its tag population. Some readers may be able to sample 10 tags a second while others may be able to sample 100 tags a second. The number of tags sampled per second is usually influenced by the following (Banks and Thompson, 2008):

 the anti-collision algorithm used by the tags;

 the processing capabilities of the reader that usually maps to the type and speed of processor in the reader;

 the amount of memory in the reader;

 the capabilities of the digital signal processor in the reader’s radio.

The RFID reader must also communicate the tags it reads with an application that can make use of the data. The most common types of communications interfaces on this side of the reader are (Banks and Thompson, 2008):

 serial – RS232 or RS422;

 IP (Ethernet) – TCP or UDP;

 USB.

RFID readers are available in many sizes, frequencies and with different data processing and reporting capabilities. Understanding these characteristics is important for designing an RFID solution that will function properly and be maintainable. Different types of readers are given in Figures 1.41.7.

Figure 1.4 Active RFID reader

Figure 1.5 Active RFID Wi-Fi reader

Figure 1.6 Wi-Fi inventory reader

Figure 1.7 RFID reader – USB

A reader has the following main components (Lahiri, 2005):

 transmitter;

 receiver;

 microprocessor;

 memory;

 input/output channels for external sensors, actuators, and annunciators (although, strictly speaking, these are optional components, they are almost always provided with a commercial reader);

 controller (that may reside as an external component);

 communication interface;

 power.

Like tags, readers can also be classified using two different criteria. The first criterion is the interface that a reader provides for communication. Based on this, readers can be classified as follows (Lahiri, 2005):

 Serial. Serial readers use a serial communication link to communicate with an application. The reader is physically connected to a computer’s serial port using an RS-232 or RS-485 serial connection. Both of these connections have an upper limit on the cable length that can be used to connect a reader to a computer. RS-485 allows a longer cable length than RS-232 does. The advantage of serial readers is that the communication link is reliable compared to network readers. Therefore, the use of these readers is recommended to minimize dependency on a communication channel. The disadvantage of serial readers is the dependence on the maximum length of cable that can be used to connect a reader to a computer. In addition, because the number of serial ports is generally limited on a host, a larger number of hosts (as compared to the number of hosts needed for network readers) might be needed to connect to all the serial readers. Another problem is maintenance – if the firmware needs to be updated, for example, maintenance personnel might have to physically deal with each reader. Also, the serial data-transmission rate is generally lower than the network data-transmission rate. These factors might result in higher maintenance costs and significant operation downtime.

 Network. Network readers can be connected to a computer using both wired and wireless networks. In effect, the reader behaves like a network device installation that does not require any specialized knowledge of the hardware. The advantage of network readers is that there is no dependence on the maximum length of cable that can be used to connect a reader to a computer. A smaller number of hosts are generally needed as compared to the serial readers. In addition, the reader firmware can be updated remotely over the network without any need to visit the reader physically. This can ease the maintenance effort and lower the cost of ownership of such an RFID system. The disadvantage of network readers is that the communication link is not as reliable compared to serial readers. When the communication link goes down, the back end cannot be accessed. As a result, the RFID system might come to a complete standstill. The readers, in general, have internal memory to store tag reads. This feature might somewhat alleviate short network outages.

The readers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, acting as gateways into the network centric communication systems of modern enterprises by supporting communication protocols such as TCP/IP and network technologies such as DHCP, UDP/IP, and Ethernet or 802.11x (for wirelessly sending data back to the enterprise).

RFID benefits

Five technological core benefits distinguish RFID technology from alternative technologies (OECD, 2007): traveling data storage, contactless data transmission and absence of line-of-sight, bulk reading, robustness, and the ability to integrate sensor technology. These five technological core benefits entail a variety of usage benefits. For example, highly automated data handling and authentication automated data handling requires less physical contact, reduces manual errors and allows for real-time inventory, and, generally speaking, an overall higher speed of operations and transactions. With traveling data storage, contactless data transmission and bulk reading, items can be tracked and their location can be precisely determined, which prevents shrinkage and allows for theft and diversion prevention as well as anti-counterfeiting measures. These usage benefits of RFID contribute to business benefits such as improved processes, improved inventory auditing, efficient access and exit control, and value-added services to customers.

RFID is mostly used for identifying people, objects, transactions, or events through a wireless communication connection. The development of RFID technology emerges to be one of the most interesting innovations for the improvement of business process efficiency across various sectors including the manufacturing, transportation and logistics, wholesale distribution, retail trade, and library sectors. Despite first appearing in tracking and access applications in the 1980s, the potential of RFID has only been recognized relatively recently. Using RFID tags, it is possible to identify and track objects and people without time delays, without human intervention, and thus without variable costs. With even smaller, smarter, and cheaper tags and readers, RFID is opening up amazing value chain possibilities. Through RFID technology, organizations can improve efficiency and visibility, cut costs, better utilize their assets, produce higher quality goods, reduce shrinkage, or counterfeiting and increase sales by reducing out-of-stocks. Also, RFID can gain a number of social benefits both in the private sector and the public sector. All this means that RFID will have a great impact on the processes and IT systems of organizations and public and societal organizations. Use of RFID is expected to increase the cost-effectiveness of public transport, to fight fraud, to increase social safety, and to introduce additional services. RFID offers many benefits to a wide variety of industries. In healthcare, RFID is expected to combat counterfeiting, to increase the quality of care, to improve the availability of health information, to prevent surgical mistakes, and to reduce theft of medical equipment. In the retail sector, RFID is expected to lead to less out-of-stock items, to more efficient logistics, to better consumer profiles, and to better quality information. These are clear benefits, which show up in the short return on investment periods, indicating the high economic value of the RFID implementations (Lieshout et al., 2007).

The transportation and automotive sectors have also made headway. With the backing of major global brands and increased convergence around global technical standards, RFID is gaining momentum. It can help stakeholders to reduce shrinkage, reduce material handling costs, increase data accuracy, enable supply chain business process innovation, and improve information sharing. RFID’s potential benefits are large and many novel applications will emerge in the future – some of which cannot be imaginable now. Table 1.4 (Das, 2006) shows that the larger application of RFID might generate a number of socio-economic benefits. It is obvious that the price–development of the tags is only one factor in the adoption and broad application of RFID. The development of some potential markets might not be as price-sensitive as often is believed, because of the social benefits that (also) might be realized.

Table 1.4

Potential benefits of RFID applications in various application areas

Source: Das (2006).

RFID applications

A wide variety of organizations are using RFID to fine-tune their operations. RFID is being used in an ever-increasing number of industries for such purposes as access control, package tracking, inventory management, e-government, baggage handling, fraud prevention, and even school attendance. Broadly speaking, these applications may be classified according to the major purpose of deploying RFID (Sabbaghi and Vaidyanathan, 2008):

 identification;

 authentication;

 location;

 automatic data acquisition.

Authentication applications include smart cards and automatic payments. In the ADA applications, objects such as produced items, cases, and pallets are tracked automatically and the captured data is used to derive enterprise applications such as supply chain management systems, customer relation management systems, and enterprise resource planning systems (Asif and Mandviwalla, 2005).

In general, there are two main areas of application, defined broadly as proximity or short range, and vicinity or long range. Long-range or vicinity applications can be described as track and trace applications, but the technology provides additional functionality and benefits for product authentication. Typical end-uses include, but are not limited to supply chain management, parcel and post, garment tags, library and rental sectors, and baggage tagging. Short-range or proximity applications are typically access control applications and mass transit ticketing. RFID technology applications grow rapidly and have received considerable worldwide attention as the costs of the RFID tag continually falls. The application of RFID changes gradually from people identification to product identification. The evolution of applications of RFID is shown in Figure 1.8.

Figure 1.8 Evolution of RFID applications Source: Xang et al. (2006).

RFID as an emerging technology has been successfully applied in supply chain management, manufacturing, and logistics, but its range of application extends far beyond these areas. Potential applications for RFID may be identified in virtually every sector of industry, commerce, and services where data is to be collected. The attributes of RFID are complimentary to other data capture technologies and thus able to satisfy particular application requirements that cannot be adequately accommodated by alternative technologies. Principal areas of application for RFID that were earlier identified included transportation and logistics, manufacturing and processing, and security (AIM).

There is tremendous potential for applying it even more widely, and increasing number of organizations have already started up pilot schemes or successfully used it in real-world environments. As standards emerge, technology develops still further, and costs reduce considerable growth in terms of application numbers, and new areas of application may be expected. Some of the more prominent specific applications include (Ngai et al., 2008):

 animal detection;

 aviation;

 building management;

 construction;

 enterprise feedback control;

 fabric and clothing;

 food safety warranties;

 health;

 library services;

 logistics and supply chain management;

 mining;

 municipal solid waste management;

 museums;

 retailing.

RFID markets

The current RFID market remains driven by high volume applications such as security/access control, contactless payment, ticketing, library management, anti-counterfeiting/authentication, ID documents (passports, national ID, etc.), item-level tagging, and animal identification (Liard and Carlaw, 2009).

The global industry for RFID technology has been steadily growing for the past few years, and is expected to pick up pace before stabilizing and settling on a steady growth path. Besides, the market is greatly benefitting from the excitement related to mandates, entry of new players, re-positioning of some organizations as RFID-focused, new product and service launches, technology advances, standards evolution, partnerships and alliances, mergers and acquisitions, and general market awareness (Liard and Carlaw, 2009).

According to the new research report, ‘Global RFID Market Analysis till 2010,’ the RFID market is set to grow at a rate of around 28 per cent in the period 2010–13. It is found that the current economic crisis across the world will not stall the global RFID market, but the market growth is expected to slowdown to around one third in 2009 as compared to the growth reported in previous years. It is also found that Asia-Pacific will witness the highest growth in RFID revenue owing to the rapid adoption of RFID applications in several countries, including China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand (RNCOS, 2009).

In 2009, IDTechEx found that the value of the entire RFID market would be $5.56 billion, up from $5.25 billion in 2008. This includes tags, readers, and software/services for RFID cards, labels, fobs, and all other form factors. The majority of this spend would be on RFID cards and their associated services – totaling $2.99 billion. The market for RFID is growing and a large amount of this value is due to government-led RFID schemes, such as those for transportation, national ID (contactless cards and passports), military, and animal tagging. In total, 2.35 billion tags would be sold in 2009 versus 1.97 billion in 2008; 1.74 billion in 2006; and 1.02 billion in 2005 (Das and Harrop, 2009). The IDTechEx report provides some more data as depicted in Figure 1.9.

Figure 1.9 RFID markets Source: Das and Harrop (2006).

Conclusion

Technological advancements are the high-octane fuel that powers the continued acceptance and growth of new technologies. These advancements can provide the following advantages:

 make existing applications easier to use;

 offer more functionality;

 drive deployment costs down.

Information technology (IT) is one of the most important resources in creating organizational value through its capability to transform the nature of products, processes, organizations, industries, and even competition itself (Porter and Millar, 1985). Owing to its ‘MOST’ (mobility, organizational, systems, and technologies) characteristics, RFID has received considerable attention and is considered to be the next wave of the IT revolution. An RFID can allow any tagged entity to be mobile, intelligent, and communicate with an organization’s overall information infrastructure (Curtin et al., 2007)

RFID is one of the fastest growing and most beneficial technologies being adopted by businesses today. Adoption of this automatic data collection (ADC) technology has recently been fuelled by the establishment of key standards, retailer, and government mandates, improved technology performance and falling implementation costs. RFID offers great value for many industries and applications (Wyld, 2006). RFID has evolved into a reliable, cost-effective technology used for personal identification, asset management, security, shipping and receiving, inventory control, and many other operations. Improved performance, falling prices, and developing standards continue to move RFID into the mainstream and have made it practical for many organizations to consider its use. A wide range of potential applications is emerging, which could, for example, revolutionize the supply chain, change the way consumers shop, and improve security and safety practices in many industries. But a variety of parties, including businesses, standard bodies and legislators, need to cooperate to ensure that RFID fulfills its potential.

The barcode, a previous identification technology advance, has had a significant impact during the past 30 years. Now, with the emergence of RFID technology, new opportunities will arise and its impact will continue to grow as new applications are realized. In addition, we expect the time to reach significant impact will be half of what it was for barcode technology. Information is the fuel that drives the economy and the society today. The information fuel we use is about to get much richer and more potent with the help of RFID technology.