An introduction to RFID standards

The need for standards has become apparent to almost everyone. As one of the major barcode suppliers put it “…without standards for the various symbologies, we would be nowhere. The existence of multiple variations of a symbology would make our job (manufacturing equipment) near impossible, without even thinking about the problems the end user would have. Imagine if your credit card only worked in a 25% of the POS terminals you used.” The explosive growth of barcode technology over the past ten years is due in part to the willingness of the various inventors of symbologies to put their inventions in the public domain and allow for open standards.

This article covers a hot topic – Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). This technology has been around for a while, but it is only in the last few years that it has started to build momentum and many people are talking about standards in the industry.

The technology involves the use of a tag or transponder and a reader to communicate information from a single bit to several kilo-bytes over a wireless link. The name RFID is actually a slight misnomer as there are many frequencies in use for this technology from around 100 kHz to nearly 6 GHz, a frequency range from just above the audio range into the microwave range. However, all the systems have one thing in common, they communicate over the airwaves.

To start you thinking about RFID, visit High Tech Aid. Under the standards link you will find lots of information about standards in Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC). Many of the topics shown there will be covered in greater detail here in the coming posts. You can also get a lot of information about RFID as a technology (as well as other technologies). You can even sign up for a free newsletter, published every month with news about the AIDC world.

You may also like to visit a useful resource on the world wide web, http://www.rfid.org. Sponsored by AIM, as part of the global initiative on RFID, this web site is devoted entirely to RFID and contains some great information for you to use and enjoy including:

• A Primer on the technology will get you up-to-speed fast, helping you understand the differences between the various variations in the technology.
• A Glossary of terms will help you get a grasp on the terminology
• White papers and case studies

AIM took an early lead in RFID with initiatives in Europe, Japan, and USA with participation from all aspects of the technology. Other organizations and standards bodies (like ISO/IEC JTC1, CEN, GS1, UPU, MHI, ETSI, ITRU, SCMLC/ICAC, CEPT, AIAG, VICS, CIDEX, IEEE, ASTN to name a few) are also working towards standardization of RFID in different areas and I will cover this work in the future.

What are Standards?

Have you ever wondered about standards for the AIDC industry? Some of you are probably aware of the fact that they exist, but you may not know where they come from, and who actually created them. In this blog I will try to dispel some of the myths, help you to understand the processes involved, and talk about the standards that are relevant to our industry.

First thing to understand is that there are two different types of standards.

Technology Standards

The first type of standard is a technology standard or specification. This type of standard is the base line for the creation of a product that uses the technology. An example of this is the standard that defines how the magnetic stripe on your credit card is created, applied and written to. Without this standard, your card would not work in all of the ATMs and point-of-sale terminals all over the world.

RFID standards are being developed by SC31 (http://goo.gl/qewn) along with barcode, data syntax, and conformance standards. There is also work being done at national levels by some countries. For a list of some of the international, regional, and national standards bodies visit http://www.aimglobal.org/standards/stndrdorgs.asp

Application Standards

The second type of standard is what I will term an application standard. In this case a standard is written that will call upon a technology standard as the basis for the implementation of an application. An example of this might be the AIAG standard for Item Level RFID (http://goo.gl/C3hv). This application standard defines specifications for enhancing the global RFID user community’s use of standards-based RFID technology to meet the needs of OEMs and the supply chain, including the retail segment, using a single tag throughout an item’s life cycle.

In the case of an application standard it is typically the application industry that writes the standard (as in the case above where AIAG wrote the standard for Item Level RFID). The application standard makes reference to the technology standard(s) (in this case ISO/IEC 18000-6), so that the implementation of the symbology itself is correct, but the application standard details how to use the symbology to encode the needed information and what that information should be.

For a list of application standards developers for various industries see http://www.aimglobal.org/resources/industry_organizations.asp. You will see that this list of standards developers covers a wide variety of applications and is probably not all inclusive. You should be able to find a link to the standards you are looking for from this page.

Once you have the basic technology standard written then it becomes available for everyone to use and interpret for their particular use.

So, if you are looking for a standard for barcode technology, then you need to look in two places, the technology standard first and then the application standard from the industry association. From the American Production & Inventory Control Society Inc. (APICS) to the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC) there will be an association for your industry that has created an application standard

Understand RFID Standards

Have you fallen for the line that there are no standards for RFID?  Worse, have you tried to look up standards about RFID and have got so confused you don’t know what is happening.

This site will try to answer some of those questions and point you in the right direction.

RFID standrads are available, they cover everything from the air interface to the data structure to the use of RFID in specific applications. Today, there is no reason not to use standards based RFID, it gives you the best of all worlds.

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