RFID won’t replace bar-code, claims report

23 Jul 2007

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is being over-hyped and Irish firms should be wary of deploying it, according to radio frequency firm Heavey RF.

In a report entitled RFID Bomb?, Heavey RF compared the hype surrounding the technology to the dotcom bubble.

“If you are an Irish company which does not have an RFID strategy you have absolutely nothing to worry about. RFID is not as reliable as bar-coding and can never be as cost-effective,” the report states.

RFID uses computer chips to store information. The advantage is that a lot of RFID chips or tags do not need power as they are charged by the emitted reading signal and respond according to the data programmed. The benefit in modern industry over conventional methods of tracking items, such as bar-coding, is that comparatively large volumes of data can be stored in a tag and line of sight is not necessarily required.

However, the Heavey RF study argues that technical and cost restrictions mean that RFID will be unable to replace bar-code technology. While costs will come down, there are too many different types of RFID tags required to achieve true economies of scale that would make it a viable replacement for bar-codes, according to the firm.

There are hundreds of different RFID tag types, from short-range, medium-range, long-range, LF, HF, UHF, 2.4GHz, 5GHz, all with different physical attributes depending on the product they are to be applied to. Because of the physical size of products (from very small to very large), their contents (foodstuffs containing iron or viscous materials) and the properties of RF technology, a large number of different tag types need to be maintained, thereby splitting volumes, contends Heavey RF.

“Irish companies are being advised by systems integrators and standards bodies to implement RFID now to avoid being left behind. I would advise them to hold off implementing RFID unless it can be demonstrated that it is fit for purpose and can deliver a return on investment,” commented Ronan Clinton, managing director of Heavey RF and author of the report.

“Given that bar-coding still hasn’t been fully deployed after 40 years in the supply chain, I find it hard to accept that this much more expensive, infinitely more complicated and not yet mature technology is going to be any different.”

He continued: “History is littered with large technical blunders – RFID in the supply chain is potentially one of the biggest. It is almost heresy to question the RFID bandwagon but we produced this report as I can see worrying parallels between RFID and the dotcom hype. There is a risk that Irish retailers are being railroaded into a technology that is too costly and does not work.

“RFID has a role to play and we have implemented RFID solutions but my belief is that it will not and cannot replace the humble bar-code for many applications.”

By Niall Byrne