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Price puts tags on track

ONE of the big movers in the IT sector this year will be the mass adoption of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, according to technology analyst groups.

The tags are likely to replace barcodes. They are activated by electromagnetic energy radiated by a scanner, which allows them to be scanned from distances up to 10 metres. The tags can be scanned in a group rather than as individual items.

Gartner’s Predictions to Watch in 2003 suggests that, because the cost of the devices has come down, RFID tags will make their way onto everyday items.

“RFID devices help with sophisticated inventory control, supply chain management, product sup-port security and point-of-sale activities, picking up where bar codes left off,” the report says.

“Many RFID tags will continue to be valuable to consumers even after they’ve bought products, to help find lost items [for example, glasses, car keys, or wallets] or to provide critical information.”

A KPMG Consumer Markets Newsletter from November 2002 highlights RFID tags as one of two trends for the IT sector. It high-lights Intelligent Agents (computer systems to which one can delegate tasks) as the other.

Technology for the RFID tags has existed for some years but it is only now that the cost point has come down and the devices become small enough to put in paper that its application can be used to its potential.

RFID tags, or E-tags, have benefits beyond the bar code that could revolutionise the retail and manufacturing sectors.

According to Gartner’s E-Tagging report of January this year, E-tags have several features that make them more adaptable than bar codes, including: RFIDs require no line of sight to be interrogated, thus eliminating the need for individual items to be scanned; and they do not require surfaces with smooth, flat con-tours.

KPMG’s newsletter suggests that RFIDs will become more entrenched in daily operations, with future scenarios including the locating of goods, maintenance of equipment, tracking and management of goods’ expiry dates, and tracking and dispatching of inventory through warehouses.

The surge in interest is based on an expected price drop, with major manufacturers rolling out E-tags this year for less than five cents each.

Previously the RFID tags were upwards of $1 each, making them price prohibitive for mass application.

Other 2003 predictions from Gartner include a quadrupling of the level of wireless LAN hot spots, and that online bill payments will be the fastest growing online financial application.

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