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Dec 19, 2018

RAIN Man’s Letter to Santa, 2018

中文版 Chinese version

Dear Santa,

How are…. Let me jump right to the point: Christmas music is like microplastics – everywhere, irritating and harmful to living organisms. In right amounts I enjoy Christmas music during December, but not in the autumn. Strangely malls, various shops and service bureaus play it, get this, starting from October. I give them business, and they want… to repel me?

Well they managed just that. Thank you Santa, for giving me all the convenient webshops, postal and grocery delivery services that streamline my everyday life. The music nuisance is pretty much gone now. Outstanding – but do you already have a plan laid out for microplastics?

2018 Was Awesome

End of 2017 I was nervous about the talent pool in our business. Turns out I just wasn’t completely in the loop. To name a few examples, Pavel had rotated himself to Impinj and Goetz and Jason were re-discovered at StoraEnso. Markus the mountain runner stepped over to the end user side in mid-2018. Harri retired, which is a loss but superb news for his granddaughter. Santa, any way to circulate Sipi back to RAIN business?

Both the RAIN name and RAIN market enjoyed a well deserved boost. The RAIN Alliance grew to over 160 members and according to Hervé D’Halluins’ presentation in Xiamen, Decathlon has achieved 100% RAIN tagging coverage on it’s merchandise!

Best of all there seems to be a consensus among manufacturers, brands and retailers that source tagging is the way to go – a message also amplified by the Project Zipper results. I couldn’t have asked for more, and am grateful to you, dear Santa.

Picture from RAIN Alliance meeting in Shenzen, China. October 2017 [Shutterstock image]

2019 to Embrace Mistakes

Santa, as we both know from the frosty Finnish lakeside, without mistakes there is very little learning.

Feeling experimental?

Take the Brexit as an example. Let it be hard or soft, but it’s going to hurt the British people like an ice hockey puck hitting the chin, especially those on the low-income end. As the tide across the English Channel is right, let’s all admit that Brexit was just an epic mistake and welcome the Great Britain warmly back to the union. A few hugs and pints will brush off the ashes, and no-one will go down that path ever again.

I don’t dare to wish anything specific regarding Brexit as such, instead I hope we all would learn to embrace mistakes and failures – also the gigantic ones.

2019 to Schedule the Upper ETSI Frequency Band

Santa, thanks for delivering the Comission Decision last October outside of my wishlist! The global harmonized RAIN Frequency band is already in the books, but not in practice. Understanding the complexities involved, it would be valuable to acquire an adoption plan across the European member states. We especially need the date when frequencies between 916-919 MHz become available for RAIN deployments in Germany.

2019 Let There Be Flooding

As annual tag delivery volumes go north of 20 Billion, we cannot expect applications to remain isolated from each other, as they nowadays still largely are. RAIN tag flooding basically occurs when RAIN applications start to overlap.

Take a sports event for example: the participants are wearing clothes and shoes purchased from Decathlon, making those items RAIN enabled. Together with their RAIN enabled race bib they next run over the race timing system antenna mat. That introduces serious tag flooding to the race timing system. Would this overlapping of applications be a problem? Assuming the correct numbering [ISO/IEC 20248] is used on all the tags AND the readers are properly configured, there should be no problem.

Anyone ordered RAIN RFID tag flooding? Picture Copyright Sami Vaskola.

Flooding is good and it’s inevitable, because the market is growing. Dear Santa, we really need to start educating the RAIN solution providers to prepare for flooding. Luckily, Bertus Pretorius already started.

Getting Warmer

The future outlook for us winter dudes is not so bright. Santa, get wheels for your sleigh. No kidding matter. See you in a few days, ok? Travel safe.

Still in denial of global warming, eh?

Dec 06, 2018

Zwei Faktoren die verhindern, dass Anwender von RFID RAIN Systemen von den Verfgbarkeit der hheren ETSI-Frequenzen profitieren

Im Januar 2016 hatte ich einen Blog darüber geschrieben, wie RAIN RFID-Unternehmen ihre Interessen vor allem in Europa vertreten sollten. Die Regulierung der Frequenzzuteilung schreitet langsam voran und jetzt, zweieinhalb Jahre später, ist es mir eine große Freude festzustellen, dass die bisherigen Ergebnisse beeindruckend sind. Lassen Sie uns einen Blick darauf werfen, wie die Nutzung des höheren ETSI-Frequenzbandes möglicherweise die Art und Weise der Optimierung des Tagging (Markierung von Objekten mittels RFID RAIN UHF Transpondern) verändert. Sicherlich werden sich diese Änderungen nicht unmittelbar bemerkbar machen. Mein Beitrag hebt zwei Faktoren hervor die derzeit einen unmittelbaren Vorteil dieser neuen Verordnung für den Anwender behindern.

Wie Tags traditionell abgestimmt werden

Im Jahr 2005 wurde das RAIN-Tagging in Europa weitgehend für das Frequenzband 866-868 MHz weitgehend optimiert. Eine solche Kennzeichnung bot in den USA nur eine sehr begrenzte oder nicht vorhandene Lesbarkeit, dies führte schnell zur Entstehung globaler Tag-Designs.

Während die weltweite (globale) Lesbarkeit im Prinzip keine so große technische Herausforderung darstellt, hat dies die Entwickler von Transponder (Tag) Antennen gezwungen, Einbußen bei der Sensitivität der Transponder in Kauf zu nehmen. Bei der Entwicklung von RFID Transpondern für die Montage auf Metall verlangt die globale Lesbarkeit in den Abmessungen deutlich größere Transpondern im Vergleich zu den winzigen Designs für einen stark eingeschränkten Frequenzbereich (ETSI 868 MHz oder FCC 915 MHz). Dies führt nicht nur zu weiteren technischen Herausforderungen sondern stellt auch einen zusätzlichen Preisfaktor dar.

Die Europäische Kommission genehmigt 4W für RFID-Lesegeräte bei 916-919 MHz

Schließlich heißt es im lang erwarteten Durchführungsbeschluss [EU] 2018/1538 der Europäischen Kommission vom 11. Oktober 2018, dass die Mitgliedstaaten bis zum 1. Februar 2019 drei Kanäle innerhalb des Frequenzbandes 916,1 -918,9 MHz für RFID-Lesegeräte öffnen sollten. Damit wird die Norm ETSI EN 302 208 V3.1.0 ergänzt, die ebenfalls ein RFID-Band zwischen 915 und 921 MHz definiert, allerdings mit eingeschränktem Umsetzungsstatus innerhalb der EU und der CEPT-Länder.

Während all dies nach Jahren der technischen Argumentation und Lobbyarbeit nach einem ausgezeichnetem Ergebnis klingt, werden die Hersteller von Lesegeräten vor neue technische Herausforderungen gestellt. Jedoch wie wird sich diese Entscheidung langfristig auf die RFID-Transponder auswirken?

Der optimale Bereich für Tagging auf globaler Ebene

Wie beabsichtigt, wird mit dem oberen ETSI-Band ein global harmonisiertes Frequenzband eingeführt, in dem alle geografischen Regionen verfügbare Kanäle für RFID-Leser haben!

Auch in Europa bietet sich damit die Möglichkeit, das Transponder-Design speziell für den oberen Frequenzbereich zu optimieren. In Anwendungen, in denen die RFID RAIN Lesegeräte (Reader) viel Zeit haben eine Bestandsaufnahme (Inventory) aller Transponder im Lesefeld durchzuführen und durch alle ETSI-Frequenzen zu scannen, sollte eine solcherart eingeschränkte Reaktion von Transpondern, die nur bei den oberen ETSI-Frequenzen wirklich empfindlich sind, kein Problem darstellen. Dies setzt natürlich voraus, dass die ETSI-Lesegeräte in Zukunft sowohl das traditionelle Frequenzband 866-868 MHz als auch das neue obere 916-919 MHz Frequenzband nutzen werden.

Unbekannter Faktor Nr.1: Umsetzungszeitplan in Mitteleuropa

Derzeit nutzt die GSM-R(ailway) das 918-921 MHz Frequenzband in Deutschland, Österreich und Frankreich auf der Grundlage nationalen Rechts gemäß den Frequenz Verordnungen der Internationalen Fernmeldeunion (International Telecommunication Union, kurz: ITU). Leider überlappt sich dieses Frequenzband und das für Europa neue obere ETSI RFID-Band. Die militärische Nutzung desselben Frequenzbereiches in Deutschland ist ein weiteres Fragezeichen und möglicherweise auch ein Hindernis. Die Europäische Kommission hat dieses Problem erkannt und gibt den Mitgliedstaaten die Möglichkeit, die Nutzung von GSM-R und RFID auf der Grundlage von Geographie, spezifischer Installation, Betriebsanforderungen oder ähnlichem zu koordinieren.

Was bedeutet dies nun in der Praxis? Schwer zu sagen. In Deutschland, Österreich oder Frankreich sind noch keine RFID-Umsetzungsrichtlinien veröffentlicht, also ist es von Vorteil die GS1-Übersicht der Regularien für Updates im Auge zu behalten. Die gute Nachricht ist, dass sich das „Future Railway Mobile Communication System“ (FRMCS) nicht mehr mit RFID überschneiden sollte. Die schlechte Nachricht ist, dass noch nicht bekannt ist, wann die Bahnen ein solches System entwickeln oder einsetzen. Das FRMCS-Projekt ist erst seit 2012 im Gange…. Ich persönlich erwarte, dass der Umsetzungsplan in Mitteleuropa bis zur zweiten Jahreshälfte 2019 weiter an Klarheit gewinnt.

Unbekannter Faktor Nr.2: Auswirkung der Leserempfindlichkeit

Der Lesebereich ist oft mehr eine Abschätzung als eine Tatsache, aber die Sensitivität des Lesegeräts ist in der Tat bereits in vielen Anwendungen ein limitierender Faktor. Ein gutes Beispiel ist die Zeitmessung von Marathonläufen. Herr Nikias Klohr von der race result AG hat dieses Thema in seinen exzellenten Präsentationen bei der Konferenz RFID Tomorrow und dem RAIN Face-to-Face-Meeting in Wien 2018 wiederholt angesprochen.

Wir alle haben in den letzten 15 Jahren gesehen, wie sich die erhöhte IC-Empfindlichkeit der Tags zur Entwicklung von Transpondern mit geringeren Abmessungen und nicht zu extrem langen >20 Meter-Lesereichweiten geführt hat. Wenn sich meine Vorhersage zur Optimierung des Tag-Designs für das 902-928 MHz-Band als richtig erweisen sollte, dann werden sich die Abmessungen und Kosten der Transponder weiter verringern.

Bis zum Jahr 2021 könnte die Stärke des rückgestrahlten Signals (Backscatter) von Miniatur-RAIN-Transpondern auf unter -90 dBm bis hinunter zu -100 dBm fallen. Die aktuelle Leserinfrastruktur wird solche geringen Transponder-Signale nicht so einfach interpretieren können. Daher müssen möglicherweise immer noch Transponder in den Abmessungen größer als notwendig verbunden mit höheren Kosten verwendet werden. Aus diesem Grund wird langfristig eine neue Gattung von Lesegeräten und eine Infrastruktur mit verbesserten Lesefähigkeiten benötigt, um die Gesamtkosten der RAIN RFID-Technologie weiter zu senken.

Fazit: Die Arbeit geht weiter

Wie schätzen Sie die Bedeutung der höheren ETSI-Frequenz ein? Haben Sie Einblicke in die regionalen Regulierungsdebatten in Deutschland oder Frankreich? Ich würde mich über einen Austausch zum Thema sehr freuen! Kontaktieren Sie uns dazu gerne.

Nov 23, 2018

Two Factors that Currently Prevent RAIN RFID End Users from Benefiting of the Upper ETSI Band

中文版 Chinese version

In January 2016 I wrote a blog about how RAIN RFID companies should defend their interests especially in Europe. Frequency regulation moves forward slowly, and now 2,5 years later it gives me great pleasure to conclude that the results so far are rather impressive. Let’s have a look at how the upper ETSI band potentially changes the way tagging is optimized. Surely the change is not immediate, and my story further highlights two factors that currently prevent end users from benefiting from this new regulation.

How Tags Are Traditionally Tuned

In 2005 RAIN tagging in Europe was largely optimized for the 866-868 MHz frequency band. Such tagging provided only very limited or non-existent readability in US, which quickly lead to emergence of global tag designs.

While global readability has not been a major technical challenge, it has forced antenna designers to sacrifice some of tag’s sensitivity. On the on-metal tag side global readability leads to significantly larger sized tags compared with the tiny one-band designs, which is both an inconvenience and a price factor.

The European Commission Permits 4W for RFID Readers at 916-919 MHz

Finally, the long-awaited COMMISSION IMPLEMENTING DECISION [EU] 2018/1538 dated 11th October 2018 says that member states should open three channels within the 916,1 -918,9 MHz frequency band for RFID readers by 1st February 2019. This comes on top of the ETSI EN 302 208 V3.1.0 standard which also defines a RFID band between 915 and 921 MHz, although with limited implementation status within the EU and CEPT countries.

While all this sounds like a fantastic outcome after years of technical argumentation and lobbying, a new variety of technical challenges are introduced for reader manufacturers. However, what will be the long term impact of this decision on the RFID tagging side?

Global Sweet Spot for Tagging

As intended, the upper ETSI band introduces a global harmonized frequency band, where all geographic regions have available channels for RFID readers!

Also in Europe this introduces a possibility to optimize tag designs specifically for the upper frequency range. In applications where readers have plenty of time to conduct inventory and scan through all the ETSI frequencies, such limited response from tags sensitive only at the upper ETSI frequencies should not be a problem. Naturally this assumes that in the future the ETSI readers will utilize both the traditional 866-868 MHz and the new upper 916-919 MHz frequency band.

Unknown Factor #1: Implementation Schedule in Middle-Europe

Currently the GSM-R(ailway) is using the 918-921 MHz band in Germany, Austria and France based on National Law in accordance with the ITU Radio Regulations. Unfortunately this band overlaps with the upper ETSI RFID band. The military usage of the same band in Germany is another question mark, and even a roadblock. The Commission recognizes the situation, and gives member states the possibility to coordinate the use of GSM-R and RFID based on geography, specific installation, operating requirements or something else.

What does this mean in practice? I actually do not know. No RFID implementation guidelines are yet published in Germany, Austria or France, but it’s good to keep an eye on the: GS1 regulatory overview for updates. Good news is that the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) should not overlap with RFID anymore. Bad news is that it’s now known when the railways will have such system designed or deployed – the FRMCS project has only been active since 2012… I personally anticipate that implementation schedule in Middle-Europe gains further clarity by second half of 2019.

Unknown Factor #2: Impact of Reader Sensitivity

The read range is often more an opinion than a fact, but the sensitivity of the reader is indeed already a limiting factor in many applications. An example is marathon race timing, and Mr. Nikias Klohr of race result AG has repeatedly raised this issue in his excellent presentations at the RFID Tomorrow and RAIN face-to-face meeting in Vienna 2018.

We all have seen over the past 15 years how the increased tag IC sensitivity has translated into smaller footprint tags rather than to ultra long >20 meter read ranges. If my prediction of tag design optimization for the 902-928 MHz band is correct, then the tag footprint will further shrink with the benefit of lower tagging costs.

By year 2021 backscatter signal strengths from miniature RAIN tags may fall below -90 dBm, even down to -100 dBm. The current reader infrastructure simply won’t be able to interpret such small tag responses, therefore larger-than-necessary tags may still need to be used at a higher expense. Therefore a new breed of readers and infrastructure with enhanced reading capabilities will be needed to continue drive down the overall cost of RAIN RFID technology.

Work Continues

What is your view on the significance of the upper ETSI band? Do you have insights into the local regulatory debates in Germany or France? Please contact us and let’s talk!

Oct 29, 2018

The ETSI Upper Band Has Arrived! What Happens Then?

中文版 Chinese version

The October 11th 2018 was a day of small celebration in the RFID industry. Celebration, because on that date, the European Commission published their positive implementing decision about the 915-921 MHz frequency band in Europe. Small, because it came out as somewhat of a compromise in the end allowing less than anticipated new channels, and in coexistence with other IoT and short range devices. This was referred to as the squeeze plan. The given implementation deadline is the 1st of February, 2019, so in a few months, country by country, the new band will become a reality.

Global Tags

Now that there is a more or less global frequency band in the world allocated for RAIN RFID, it is possible to design tags that can be operated around the world. For basic labels and average sized hard and on-metal tags this has not been an issue in the past either. It isn’t too hard at all to stretch the tag’s performance band to cover both the 865-867 MHz and 902-928 MHz bands in one go with giving practically no performance away in the process.

Smaller tags tend to be specific for a frequency band, whereas larger labels are easily truly global.

Miniaturization of tags, like the ones needed to track small tools and surgical equipment, as an example, has come with a cost. It’s near impossible to make a tag which is simultaneously: (1) small, (2) wideband and (3) has a good performance. Pick any two qualities and say farewell to the third. With the miniaturized RAIN tags, the lost quality has predominantly been the wide bandwidth. This has led to separate tag versions for the ETSI 866 MHz region and for the 902-928 MHz FCC band. The very smallest tags have even had trouble covering the whole FCC band. Luckily, there is the obligatory frequency hopping to cover this deficit. Now, making a global miniaturized tag is easy, just aim at the 917 MHz mark and be done.

A New Breed of Readers

In all likelihood, we are going to witness the emerging of a new breed of RAIN readers as well. A truly global reader would be nice, and will surely arrive one day. Long before that, we need a new spec ETSI reader, one that will operate both on the European lower and upper band. The utilization of the two bands will help better cover all tags, especially all those miniaturized tags, tags with close-coupling issues and large challenging populations. The utilization of both the bands interleaved might also give rise to features, like more accurate tag ranging and positioning.

From a hardware point of view, there lies a small re-design challenge. Most of the smaller inbuilt circular antennas in the hand-held readers are certainly unique to ETSI or FCC currently and need some tweaking to cover both bands with a good performance. Other hardware like directional couplers, SAW filters, and power amplifier matching might also not be directly functional for both bands. While these are fairly simple RF engineering tasks to put right, it means that a big portion of the existing readers probably are not updateable to the new European RF landscape with a simple firmware update.

Different Flavors of the Upper Band

When we look closer into the requirements at different regions that use the upper band, we start to notice a lot more differences to which the readers need to adapt. The first thing that will catch attention is the sheer difference in the number of channels available in the bands such as FCC and Brazil as an example. After that one would hope that the three allocated ETSI upper band channels would be ones picked from the FCC channel, but actually none of them coincide. Same goes for Chinese, Japanese, Russian and other channels, they just are not the same. Also, the center frequencies often do not give much of a room for flexibility. For instance, ETSI specifies a channel center frequency maximum deviation of 10ppm, which equates to +/- 9.2kHz. So, for example, there is no compromise available to be at for the nearly coinciding channels of 916.3 MHz (ETSI) and 916.25 MHz (FCC) simultaneously.

To add to the complexity, different regions have varying regulations of:

  • channel hopping
  • dwell time
  • Listen before Talk (LBT)
  • sensitivity limit
  • modulation speeds and formats (because of spectral mask).

At the moment all of this is not a huge technical hurdle to accomplish. But the day will come when readers start to cross borders installed in cars, trains and even operating in mobile phones, and then it will be a major inconvenience to track location and change settings at every border.

Channel center frequencies in various regions. Most use their own list of frequencies which just do not coincide.

Summary

The coming changes in the Europe and the already existing different RAIN RFID bands in the world have long affected the tag design. The new ETSI upper band is a move to the right direction to make RFID systems more global. This will give the reader manufacturers a lot of thinking and rework for the months to come – the outcome of which will be interesting to see. The two different European bands will start to co-exist and readers have one more set of channels and regulations to adapt to.

Luckily when it comes to the minor channel frequency differences in the upper band, at least the tags don’t mind.

Mar 09, 2018

Connections Summit Brings RAIN RFID, NFC, and AIDC Together

中文版 Chinese version

Until now, it has seemed that different RFID and AIDC technologies, as well as the organizations that represent them have resided in their own silos. Both RAIN RFID and NFC have been focusing on their own applications and they don’t seem to have much in common. At the same time, both technologies have been quite distant from all the discussion surrounding the Internet of Things (IoT).

But as a matter of fact, the two technologies have a common goal: they strive to be means for connecting items to the cloud. And the technologies don’t really compete against each other. So, it makes perfect sense that the two industries started to pull into one direction. That is why the RAIN RFID Alliance, the NFC Forum and AIM Global joined forces to arrange the first Connections Summit at the Google campus in Sunnyvale, California.

Connections Summit 2018 Attracted Excellent Attendance

The Connections Summit brought together the RAIN RFID and NFC communities, as well as a lot of curious visitors, into a day full of presentations and panels that covered various aspects of these technologies. Overall, there were over 450 people participating, which I think is a huge success. The presentations covered the host Google’s view of the IoT, IDTechEx’s market information, and numerous case studies highlighting the use of both NFC and RAIN RFID. It was clear that RAIN RFID, NFC, BLE (Bluetooth Low-Energy) and other wireless technologies, as well as optical codes have their own benefits and uses. There are some overlaps, but the overlapping application areas are shadowed by unique benefits of each technology.

Intranets of Things is not True IoT

Even if each data collecting technology has its own benefits, there are also shared development needs in the broader identification and IoT industry. In many presentations and discussions, the questions related to the collected data. There is a clear need for common standards on how to point the ID codes to actual data in the cloud (the digital twin). Currently, each technology relies on different methods and standards, and in many cases, applications are company-specific. The current Internet of Things (IoT) is actually a number of separate intranets of things, offering very little meaningful IoT data available “in the internet”.

Data Sharing Requires Determining of Ownership and Privacy

In order to move from the intranets to real IoT, data sharing standards are needed. The topic is complicated: In addition to pure standardization, also questions of privacy and data ownership have to be addressed. What part of the data is owned by the owner of the item? What is owned by the organization collecting the data? And who owns the data that is aggregated from multiple sources? The discussion has started, but the IoT industry has a long road ahead before all these questions are solved.

So, what is the verdict? Did the event work out? Yes! There was definitely a need for this kind of cross-pollination. Everyone I talked to at the event emphasized that they had learned a lot. I am sure that this event was not the last of its kind, I am looking forward to the next one.

Feb 01, 2017

GS1 Releases the TIPP Global Guideline – Streamlines RAIN RFID Adoption in Retail and Fosters Tagging Innovations

中文版 Chinese version

After over 18 months of hard work, the TIPP work group under the GS1 Global Office has now released the Tagged Item Performance Protocol (TIPP) for global usage. The guideline focuses on readability of tagged items, supports all the global RAIN RFID frequencies, and also comes with additional supportive documentation to make the adoption process easier.

Many experts have invested a considerable amount of time in the creation of this guideline, and I am personally pleased with the outcome. The feedback that I’ve already collected leads me to believe that the standard lays out useful guidance also for RAIN RFID projects outside of the retail sector. Read on to learn what this standard means for the industry and end users.

TIPP Simplifies RAIN RFID Adoption for Retailers

The early adopters of RAIN RFID technology needed to cope with plenty of piloting, in-store testing and other iterative procedures to make the technology work out for them. A decade later, now in 2017, both the technology itself and the surrounding ecosystem have matured. Standards also emerge to make adoption of technology easier, faster and less expensive.

TIPP grades establish a common vocabulary and methodology for the RAIN RFID ecosystem. Original chart adopted from Impinj Inc., with modifications.

The end users define their specific tagging requirements as TIPP grades that are easy to communicate between stakeholders. Similar standard communication methods are already utilized in barcoding, EPC tag data standard and product attributes – standards boil down complicated technical issues into simple ones thus removing headaches and misunderstandings.

But wait a minute – some retailers rely on the approved inlay lists from the ARC Program, so what is the relevance of TIPP for them?

TIPP Scales – Removes Bottleneck of the ARC Program

The well-known ARC Program uses a sophisticated test system to gather and compile a database of RFID label performance characteristics. Combined with the end user specific requirements gathered during pre-pilot tests, the local experts then maintain certified inlay lists across retail item categories.

However, a limitation of the ARC Program is that the only official place to perform the tests for a newly developed inlay or retail item category is the one Auburn University test laboratory in Alabama, USA. There are only a limited number of experts available for pre-pilots, thus a bottleneck gradually developed.

As the number of deployments started rising across continents, the ecosystem simply needed methodology that scales. Now that the TIPP guideline establishes open grades and open test methodology, anyone can start performing TIPP tests locally and the bottleneck is removed.

Under the hood TIPP is about 95% the same as the ARC test setup. The main difference is how the test data is interpreted. In fact it should be acknowledged that the ARC Lab Director Justin Patton and Director of Technology Dr. Senthilkumar CP both gave significant contribution during the creation of TIPP US.

TIPP grading test system is essentially a similar 4 channel setup as the ARC test system.

TIPP grading test system

Building the Future for Smarter Packages

An aspect of TIPP is that it enables tagging solutions providers to innovate with new breeds of smart packages since they are no longer dictated to work only with inlay-based RAIN labeling. Moving away from diverse inlay lists also brings increased possibilities for suppliers to drive down the cost of tagging. In this perspective I don’t expect the cost of an inlay to drop as such, instead I am confident that management, stocking of labels and finishing processes around tagging will find new efficiencies.

Origins of TIPP Date Back to VICS and ILRI

For the folks out there that want to understand how TIPP came to existence, I’ve gathered a brief history piece in another document. If ILRI, VICS or ARC Arkansas rings any bells, you may want to give the History of TIPP document two minutes of your time.

In essence TIPP is rooted on

  1. the joined effort within the retail industry to increase the efficiency and transparency of supply chains
  2. the pain that RFID projects caused for the early adopters in the retail industry
  3. the learnings from prior technology implementations, such as barcodes
  4. the ongoing RAIN RFID deployment evolution from handheld scanners to zone sensor infrastructure.

Next Step: Guideline to Be Adopted by Retailers

As the TIPP guideline was developed for the retail community by the request of the retail community, I next look forward to the retailers and their suppliers to start adopting this global guideline. To make the transition smoother this time around, the guideline comes with supportive documentation both for the retailers and solution providers.

The GS1 TIPP website offers new fantastic documentation for both techies and non-techies.

Needless to say, if there are any obstacles on the way, both the GS1 Member Organizations and technology vendors are glad and available to assist. A new test protocol for dense stacks will be added to the standard in Q2/2017 together with new grades – mighty good news for anyone in the sporting goods business!

Over time we all should learn more about the benefits that the standard offers. When it comes to simplifying RFID vendor compliance management, my recent blog post already discussed that side of the story.

Methodology Likely to Find Ground Also Outside of Retail

I’ve had the privilege to explain and justify TIPP for various stakeholders over the recent couple of years. Received feedback suggests that the end user segments outside of retail consider TIPP as a benchmark of how to express tagging requirements in a scalable way. One hurdle for those folks in various businesses will be to find and motivate an un-biased association to efficiently nurture the standard creation – same as VILRI and later GS1 did for retail.

Any comments or concerns? Please let me hear it! Let’s also utilize LinkedIn forums for additional discussions:

Dec 13, 2016

TIPP Offers Both Low-Hanging Fruits and Long-Term Efficiencies for Everyone in the Retail Supply Chain

中文版 Chinese version

In the name of vendor compliance, many suppliers and brand owners are facing new RAIN RFID product tagging requirements from their retailer customers. The new TIPP standard harmonizes these requirements, bringing transparency and new cost efficiencies within grasp of all parties. Continue reading to catch some more good news coming your way!

RAIN RFID Adoption Challenge #1: Managing a Multi-Party Technology Project

I am sure you have all been there: a room full of people and a couple over remote connection, and someone with opening words – “Good Morning Everyone. We now have this new vendor requirement we need to satisfy. It concerns most of you and some of our partners, too.”.

What happens then is roughly a factor of project management, technology maturity, number of involved parties, communication skills and team endurance.

Adoption Challenge #2: Balancing the Short-Term Goals and Long-Term Efficiencies

You may have noted that when a deadline approaches, the time perspective also shortens. It’s only human nature that this leads to decisions that seem simple and make sense in the short-term, but which lead to excess expenditure and even re-engineering projects in the long-term. It’s a twisted set of requirements that is difficult to put in balance.

When it comes to an RFID implementation, I would personally list the signs of short-sighted decisions to include usage of inlay lists, selecting the cheapest label supplier, and utilizing of proprietary numbering systems.

Transition from an IT Project to a Compliance Process is Easier if Implementation is Based on Standards

During the roll-out phase, an RFID project definitely involves the folks over at the IT department. There are new streams of information flowing between companies, and also bits going back and forth in the new RAIN reader infrastructure within the company itself.

However, as all that is successfully solved and implemented, the IT maestros turn their focus back on geek black magic, Linux and Dr. Pepper. The whole thing basically turns into a compliance and quality management process that runs 24/7 and is managed by different people: Vendor Compliance Manager, Quality Manager, or similar. It is at that time when standards, defined maintenance routines and ISO 9001 quality systems show their power.

Take the Simple Route and Base Tagging Requirements on TIPP

Tagged Item Performance Protocol (TIPP) is a global standard developed by the spearhead retailers, their suppliers and the RFID technology community. TIPP utilizes a grading approach that enables anyone to define varying tagging requirements for different product categories.

I’d actually like to point out the TIPP analogy to hangers, where the “Voluntary Guidelines for Hanger Specifications for Floor-Ready Merchandise” by GS1 states that “Hanger performance is the key metric, not the material.” The very same applies to RFID, where the readability of tagged items is the key, not the logo on the RFID inlays.

TIPP grades enable retailers to efficiently determine tagging requirements based on their own read scenarios without sharing any sensitive information unnecessarily with outsiders. Naturally it’s ok to turn to trusted solution providers that can perform the necessary tests and determine which TIPP grades to utilize in different product categories.

Paving the Way to Long-Term Process Efficiencies

TIPP grading enables the suppliers and brand owners to work with their partners and solution providers to find cost-effective tagging solutions that both meet the vendor compliance requirements, aka TIPP grades, and their own process preferences. This way the decision making on label purchases is distributed to where costs and supply chain efficiency can be best managed.

Wait, there is more: TIPP practically removes the in-store validation tests that are now essential to the maintenance of retailer specific inlay lists! In-store testing of labels is a significant operational burden and expense, which was indeed quite necessary at the early days of RFID adoption in retail. Now that the technology has matured, it’s time to reassign all performance and validation testing to parties that efficiently perform it as part of their daily routines.

Lean on the Technology Providers

Today there are numerous technology providers close by you that can assist you in meeting your RFID retail mandates and requirements. To find solution providers try these search engines:

It goes without saying that you ought to be a demanding customer for all these folks out there – don’t accept the first proposal without hearing more about the alternatives. Always demand a standard solution without vendor-lock and have the short- and long-term implications spelled out.

Yes, We Can (in January)

The original TIPP guideline came out in the USA in 2015. The guideline already introduced the performance grades approach, but was limited to the FCC frequency band. To create a global version that also covers the ETSI, Chinese and various other bands, the GS1 Global set up a workgroup in summer of 2015. I have been co-chairing the workgroup for about a year now together with Plamen Iliev of Embisphere.

January is going to be exciting in many ways. I am delighted to point out that a global TIPP standard is already ratified and will be officially released by the GS1 in January 2017. Please contact us if you want to discuss these issues in more detail, and see you at the NRF in New York!

RFID tagged men’s shirts in a department store in Helsinki, Finland. I simply wanted to add this picture here in the end because it’s just such a beautiful sight.

Aug 11, 2016

RAIN RFID, UHF RFID, EPC RFID, … – Confused by the Different Names?

中文版 Chinese version

I am frequently lecturing to RFID users and technology providers about quality and performance in RFID. Every now and then a question about the terminology comes up. RFID technology has developed through several paths and as a result there are a lot of names and definitions for RFID. A beloved child has many names, says a Finnish proverb. Understanding the different points of view in naming and the origins of the terminology help to understand the many names.

RFID and Frequency

RFID – Radio Frequency IDentification – is the umbrella term covering a wide variety of technologies: frequencies, communication protocols, and device types. One common way to refer to the different technologies is with the names of the frequency bands:

  • LF RFID (Low Frequency RFID)
    125 kHz – 134.2 kHz, 125 kHz RFID, 134 kHz RFID
  • HF RFID (High Frequency RFID)
    13.553 MHz – 13.567 MHz, 13.56 MHz RFID
  • UHF RFID (Ultra High Frequency RFID)
    433 MHz: 433 MHz RFID
    858 MHz – 960 MHz: UHF RFID *)
  • Microwave RFID
    2.4 GHz – 2.454 GHz: 2.4 GHz RFID
    5.725 GHz – 5.875 GHz: 5.8 GHz RFID

*) Includes local bands ETSI RFID (865 MHz – 868 MHz) and FCC RFID or 915 MHz RFID (902 MHz -928 MHz)

Passive and Active RFID

Different RFID technologies feature different ways to power up the tags and to communicate between the reader and the tag. The base technology is used as one way to classify RFID:

  • Passive RFID: technology where the tag powers up from the radio frequency energy sent by the reader, and communicates back by modulating the reader signal
  • Battery assisted passive RFID, BAP RFID, Semi-passive RFID: technology where the tag gets its operating power from a battery but communicates back by modulating the reader signal
  • Active RFID: technology where the RFID tag is powered from a battery and communicates by active transmission
  • RFID sensor, sensor tag: a sensor (temperature, pressure, humidity – or anything else) is integrated into the RFID tag – can be passive, active or BAP
  • Chipless RFID: tags without a silicon microchip based on time-domain reflectometry or frequency signature techniques are called chipless RFID tags.

RFID Names from Standards

Another approach for RFID naming comes from the radio transmission protocols. They are described in radio protocol standards, and are often referred to by the standard names: ISO 15693, ISO 14443-A, ISO 14443-B, ISO 18000-62, ISO 18000-63, GB T/29768

The alphanumeric standard names are not that good for marketing use, so many of the standards are more widely known by commercial brand names, such as

  • Mifare: NXP’s trademark for 13.56 MHz, ISO 14443-A
  • FeliCa: Sony’s trademark for 13.56 MHz, JIS X 6319-4
  • EPC RFID: Electronic Product Code, GS1’s standard family for data content in RFID, standard family includes also protocol standards and frequency standards – also standardized as ISO 18000-63 (formerly ISO 18000-6C)
  • SINIAV: (Sistema de Identificação Automática de Veículos) Brasilian department of transportation’s system for identifying cars. The system includes also RFID protocol standard at UHF RFID frequency

Many of the standards have also been published by various organizations with no or with small adjustments. For example, it is common that a standard is published as a national standard (JIS, DIN,…) , or industry specific standard (IEC for example) and afterwards as a global ISO standard.

Marketing Names and Industry Organizations Aiming for Clarification

In order to fully describe a specific technology, several of the above names can (and sometimes must) be used together. For example: Passive 13.56MHz sensor tag with ISO 15693 protocol. Also several names are interrelated – for example ISO14443-A is in practice always also 13.56 MHz (HF RFID), and passive.

Using these technology derived names and standard names for describing the technology can be complicated, confusing, and in many cases drives the focus to the wrong direction. Industry organizations have recognized this problem and they have launched marketing names for most common technology combinations. Their focus is on the use cases instead of technical details and their goal is that these names would become the everyday names for RFID technologies – just like e.g. Bluetooth has become a common name for radio communication between electronics devices using 2.4 GHz frequency and ISO 802.15 standard protocol.

  • NFC: Near Field Communication is a term/brand by an industry organization (link: http://nfc-forum.org/ text: NFC Forum popup:yes). The term describes a main stream combination of HF RFID technologies, and is used extensively in e.g. smart phones. The technology uses 13.56 MHz frequency and several protocols, such as ISO14443A, ISO14443B, and FeliCa (Japan Standard JIS X 6319-4).

  • RAIN RFID: RAIN RFID is a name coined by the RAIN RFID Alliance – a global cooperation organization of companies offering or utilizing passive UHF RFID. The RAIN RFID covers RFID technologies using frequencies from 860 MHz to 960 MHz and the EPC RFID Gen2 protocol, also known as ISO 18000-63 air interface, regardless of the used numbering system.

Which Names Should Be Used?

I am not ready to trash any of the current terminology. However, I have my own preferences.
I prefer the NFC and RAIN RFID terms in case studies and similar documents aimed for a wider audience when not focusing on nitty-gritty technical details but describing benefits of the technology.

When the focus is on certain technical viewpoints: protocol, frequency, technology type etc., I prefer the narrow technical terms. “Computer accessory for reading battery assisted UHF RFID EPC temperature sensor tags” sounds horrible, but actually describes quite well the technology solutions used. For a consumer the monster-term is not as easy as having a RAIN RFID enabled laptop.

Voyantic is a quality and performance test system provider for the RFID industry. The test systems can be used for testing tags and readers at UHF and HF RFID frequencies – or if you prefer – within RAIN RFID and NFC.

Jun 07, 2016

RFID Triumph at Macy’s: More Sales with Higher Margins – GS1 Connect 2016 Recap

中文版 Chinese version

It was my third time to attend the GS1 Connect event; this time in Washington, DC from May 31st through June 3rd. The event was loaded with an impressive conference menu and a larger exhibition area than in the Austin event last year, although with less exhibiting companies than previously. RFID was well presented – read on to see what I am taking home from that perspective.

Utopia Comes with Transparency and Traceability that Protects Both Business and Consumers

Standardsville is a picturesque city where everything is clean, convenient, traceable and safe. Business blooms because information and goods flow without obstacles, and The Consumer is protected from harm. Actually I thought GS1 had done a really nice job on creating this Standardsville utopia as the theme of the event.

Standardsville comes with plenty of convenience and color. Picture Copyright GS1 2016.

In his keynote speech Mr. Bob Carpenter, the President and CEO of GS1 US, highlighted RFID as one of the transformational technologies that is currently reshaping retail. In a conference session the same message came through the presentation of Dr. Bill Hardgrave of Auburn University. Dr. Hardgrave listed the “Big Four” Foundational Use Cases of RFID together with the additional current driver: the omni-channel retail.

Retail use cases of RFID according to Dr. Bill Hardgrave, University of Auburn

For the most effective RFID execution Dr. Hardgrave again gave the ultimate guidance: “Move to 0HIO“.

RFID Is a Strategic Enabler for Macy’s

In the Macy’s HTDBW session Mr. Bill Connell, Senior VP of Logistics at Macy’s, explained the reasons why Macy’s is so committed to RFID – sales uplift is naturally the ultimate reward, but all the other benefits of accurate inventory also add enormous efficiencies to store operations. The consumer sees all this as improved shopping experience, whether she is online or in-store.

Supplier Source Tagging Is Happening Already

Mr. Connell also made it clear that supplier source tagging is the only way to do this right so that benefits are spread thorough the supply chain. Today tagging coverage among Macy’s suppliers is 56%, and Mr. Connell expressed his wish that the rest would start tagging tomorrow.

In a separate session Rich Haig, the CIO of Herman Kay, one of Macy’s suppliers, presented their experiences around RFID. The added visibility that RFID has brought to their own processes has dramatically affected shipping routines and raised accuracy to a whole new level. All this has made Herman Kay a better supplier for all their customers.

Many Retailers Put Emphasis on Product Attributes and Rich Content

As omni-channel retail marches forward, it seems that most retailers have their focus on getting the content right on their webstores. As an example, Walmart is focused on getting every single item online, including those that they are not currently even selling! As an engineer I am struggling to follow this logic, but I suppose that’s just me.

I understand rich content and romancing the product is essential to fight the online competition. However, behind the curtains many are following what the spearhead retailers are doing around RFID. For the latecomers implementing RFID is going to be a smoother ride because supplier source tagging is already happening, standards are emerging to make communication easier between stakeholders, and successful tagging solutions have become a common knowledge in many product categories.

TIPP Is Like the Air We Breathe

So, why are the retailers not implementing the Tagged Item Performance Protocol (TIPP) that was just recently developed for them? I’ve learned this actually is just an illusion. The way professional RFID tagging in retail is done today is solely based in TIPP-like methodology – some just call them ARC tests and others Voyantic tests. Common factors include tags applied on products/materials, organized to in-store like product stacks and then tested over a wide frequency band and across rotation angles.

TIPP grades will take their place as a communications method as tagging spreads to new product categories and new retailers. This is already happening, and I am sure the TIPP methodology will be discussed more at the GS1 Connect 2017.

GS1 Connect 2017 Taking Place in Las Vegas

As business moves forward the next GS1 Connect will be held in Las Vegas. Unfortunately the event is moved forward by a couple of weeks to 19th-22nd June, which will be right on top of the Finnish Midsummer’s Eve – the magical nightless night. Considering the night in Las Vegas may well be somewhat similar, I will be faced with a difficult decision between bonfires and casinos.

Jan 27, 2016

RFID Companies Should Stand United to Defend the RFID ETSI Frequencies – We Are Not Out of the Woods Yet

Listen up now Alien, Avery Dennison, GE, Honeywell, Intel, Impinj, NXP, Metro, Smartrac, SML, SATO, Tesco, and Zebra. You have a world of hurt coming in – the ETSI UHF RFID band might get cannibalized, and you cannot afford it. We are facing a serious situation where other technologies may cripple the already narrow RFID ETSI band. Read on to learn more about what you should do to defend your business.

AIM and RAIN are alert already, but more industry collaboration is needed to defend the ETSI RFID frequency band from other interested parties

RFID Is a Niche Technology Compared with WiFi

WiFi, NFC, and Bluetooth are all great technologies, with trustworthy standards and powerful industry alliances behind them. UHF RFID is a hobby in comparison. How many people on the planet have ever heard about RFID, or of the RAIN Alliance for that matter?

European RFID companies and potential end-users already lost one fight a long time ago. Just compare the ETSI 865 to 868 MHz band to the FCC 902-928 MHz ISM band. Some difference there – how many channels was that? Luckily we Europeans got away with 2 Watts ERP anyhow.

WiFi Stretching Down to Sub-gigahertz Area

Next up: the ETSI RFID band may be crippled by other technologies, at least if we ask the WiFi consortium. The WiFi consortium with its 600 member companies is completing its mission, doing the dance and WiFi HaLow is being lobbied for a sub-gigahertz band to operate in, potentially on top of ETSI RFID. To make the situation even more alarming, RFID companies are not presented well enough in the ETSI workgroups where the hard work is done. This is where industry collaboration would make a difference.

LBT Would Downgrade the Position of RFID

A simple resolution of sharing the band is to put Listen Before Talk (LBT) in place and use RFID only if there is an available channel. Well then, how would that modified sales pitch is going to sound like to your customers who are concerned about the RF reliability and availability? Do note there are only four ETSI RFID reader channels available!

“Yes, well, basically, there is no problem.”

In the worst case, the IoT of non-powered devices would be postponed in Europe by a few decades. All the previous pain related to Round Rock and the Japan 950 MHz band change are peanuts compared with this. The EU business covers a 30% share of the global RFID market – this would hurt us all bad. We may all be destined to walk the niche path unless we act and stand united.

RFID companies and associations cannot afford to bury their head in the sand when it comes to standardization

The New 915-921 MHz Band Is Needed and Proposed, but Not Approved Yet

The good news is that the new band 915-921 MHz in Europe may be opening up for RFID in the future. The proposal was already made in 2012 ETSI TR 102 649-2 V1.3.1 with an update ETSI EN 302 208-2 V2.1.1 in 2015. This is absolutely a positive issue with the work item REN/ERM-TG34-264 now in the “Final Draft for Approval” phase. How are You currently supporting this noble mission?

Get Proactive in Defending Your Business

AIM is alert already, and we have smart people engaged in this work. Still, more support is needed: join ETSI, join RAIN Alliance, support AIM, support GS1, and do assign your brightest to work on the ETSI ERM TG34. We are not out of the woods yet. Spare no Dollar, Euro, Yen, nor Yuan – Sharing the 866 MHz RFID band is not a concern of Europe alone; it could impact the global RFID business severely!

Do also make sure your representative is in the right room when it’s time to vote.