The Growing Importance of RFID around the World

Monday 22 January 2007

Ian Smith, CEO of AIM UK and Founding Director of the European Centre for Excellence for RFID Technologies


Ian provided a very informative talk, non-technical in nature, outlining the growth of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology around the globe. Twenty years ago people were asking “what is a barcode?”. Now, barcodes have changed our lives and are taken for granted.

The same will eventually be true of RFID tags, the RFID equivalent of a barcode. The main advantage of RFID tags over barcodes is that no line-of-sight is required. Merely passing near a reader, typically within a few feet, is sufficient to register a tag. Many tags can be read at the same time e.g. from a pallet of goods.

Top uses of RFID are currently in transportation and security access and control with asset management forecast as the main growth area. Examples are as varied as Swiss Railways, the China Congress, VW cars, the Vatican library, the US border crossing, marathon runners, airport luggage and the 2006 World Cup tickets.

Marks and Spencer have the biggest application in the world, currently buying 100 million tags a year and running a retail pilot where 25 million garments have been tagged. Drivers for the expansion in usage of RFID are cheaper tags, emerging standards and cheap network connectivity.

Other predicted areas for use include healthcare (a tagged wristband would identify the patient with a link to their medical record and include information such as allergies), waste management, utilities and leisure.

Ian drew on his experience gained when he led two Government Global Watch missions to the USA and Japan during 2006. Japan is way ahead of the US. Ian spoke of the “Hibiki” project which aims to make RFID tags available for 5 yen each (about 2p). In the US, a Wal-mart pilot showed that stores with RFID-tagged stock had a 16% reduction in out-of-stock items and are 63% more effective at replenishing stock than stores without RFID.

Privacy concerns

Ian alluded to the scaremongering of the press and certain individuals that use of RFID tags could lead to a “big brother” state, but played it down, saying this was mainly due to misinformation.

Ian is a founder of the new European Centre of Excellence for AIDC (Automated Identification and Data Capture), sponsored by Yorkshire Forward and located in Halifax, under whose umbrella bar-code and RFID technologies fall.

He explained that one of AIDC’s aims is to create a “town where you live”, a demonstration area of shops, offices and businesses showing the variety of uses of RFID. RFID is certainly a technology that cannot be ignored!


A lively question and answer session concluded the meeting.