RFID - A Tale of Four Continents
Jan 03, 2007 Dr Peter Harrop
RFID is being adopted worldwide but with very great differences of emphasis as revealed by the IDTechEx Knowledgebase of over 2450 case studies in 92 countries. This is a tale of four, very different continents. North America is by far the largest market for RFID in value, number of tags and number of case studies of RFID in action. That is almost entirely due to the USA, with its massive orders for military RFID and widespread adoption in all sectors, Canada being a late follower.
The primary applications differ greatly between the continents as shown below. However, the financial, security, safety sector dominates overall and this employs mainly cards and card-like structures such as badges and flat key fobs.
Largest number of RFID case studies by application and continent
Source IDTechEx www.idtechex.com
Australasia is unusual in its success with libraries, where about 10% of the appropriate libraries have RFID vs one percent for the world as a whole.
If we look at the tag format, we see that labels are now well ahead in popularity and, other than in Australasia, cards come second. Australasia has the button format come second because it is the form used in the ears of cattle and in marathon runners' shoes etc. and this region has a lot of animal and leisure applications relative to its size.
Largest number of RFID case studies by tag format and continent
Alternatively, we can look where the tag is placed. Contrary to popular opinion, this is at item level, from books to jewellery and apparel, not pallet and case, which is in the ascendant only in North America and then only in the number numbers of RFID projects, not the money spent, which has been little more than $100 million under the retail mandates. Once again, the money spent on item level tagging has greatly exceeded the money spent on pallet and case tagging this year. Surprisingly, the tagging of people, which occurs in marathon races, hospitals, prisons and so on, is just ahead animal tagging in Australasia to grab the number two slot there.
Largest number of RFID case studies by tag location and continent
Finally, let us look at frequencies. Early RFID was mainly at LF because such tags were easily hand made in modest numbers and they were very tolerant of metal and water. With mass applications some way away, tag cost and size were not primary considerations. Then came HF tags which are an excellent compromise for the higher volume applications, including cards, the favourite format by overall money spent. However, in the last two years the proponents of UHF tags have made the greatest noise and they have got specifications for air baggage, pallets and cases rewritten to focus exclusively on their capability - truly a triumph of marketing. So where are we now? After all, RFID is a label business in number of tags used and labels will be the main spend as well one day. An LF label would be an expensive rarity.
As the table below shows, the US, with its exceptionally benign radio regulations at UHF and enthusiasm for that frequency from Wal-Mart to most of the leading local suppliers is out of kilter with the rest of the world where HF is remains way ahead. To misquote Mark Twain, "Rumours of its death are premature." Indeed, HF is staking out new ground such as RFID enabled mobile phones, some labels on drugs and designer apparel for anti-counterfeiting, and all mass transit ticketing and RFID debit and credit cards.
Largest number of RFID case studies by frequency and continent
Source IDTechEx www.idtechex.com
For the near term, it now looks highly unlikely that HF will usurp UHF in baggage, pallets and cases but on the other hand, it is highly unlikely that UHF will usurp HF in cards, tickets, passports, library books and Near Field Communication. In future both UHF and HF RFID labels will appear on packaging but one or the other will be standard for drug packaging and it is too early to call that one.
For more attend the truly international, major RFID conference RFID Smart Labels USA 2007, Boston February 21-22 2007. Hear about RFID developments in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China, South America, North America and Europe from experts residing in those countries!