RFID Standards 101

Based on the questions we receive from our viewers, there appears to be a great deal of confusion relating to RFID standards. This is not surprising as it is a very complex subject, and yet it is often overlooked because people consider the topic boring. They see a bunch of acronyms and numbers listed together and brush over it. As I have participated in the standards process, I speak from experience when I say that an enormous amount of effort goes into the development of an international standard and they are absolutely vital to our industry for a number of reasons:

UConnect 2011 Standards In Action Demonstration


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1. Standards help to ensure that products interoperate between different entities (commercial, government, etc).
2. They provide guidelines in which to develop complementary products (tags, readers, software, and accessories).
3. They broaden markets and thereby encourage competition. This should result in lower prices for users of RFID products that adhere to standards.
4. They increase confidence in new technologies.

Standards are developed and issued by international, regional, national, and industry specific entities. The more global the standard, the more entities are involved in the development. Very often, a standard issued by one entity is applicable to a standard being developed by another entity.

Specific to RFID, there are also regulatory bodies that govern the use of radio frequency devices. For example in the US, there's the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and the ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) in Europe.

There are standards relating to different aspects of RFID:

  • Air Interface Communications protocol standards typically define how the reader and the tag 'talk' to one another. This includes the:
    1. Physical characteristics of the radio communication sometimes called the 'physical layer'
    2. Structure of commands and responses.
    3. "Anti-collision" algorithm or method of detecting and communicating with only one tag when more than one tag is present.
  • Data content standards describe how information is to be formatted, such as what is stored on an RFID tag.
  • Device communication standards explain how data is communicated from the reader to computer.
  • Application Standards illustrate how products are to be used, such as where do I place label.
  • Conformance standards provide instructions on how a specific device is to be evaluated to ensure it complies with a standard.

Many RFID solutions have their standard categorized as "Identification cards" or "Contactless integrated circuit(s) cards". There are specific RFID standards for the identification of tires, wheels, freight containers, reusable plastic containers, and even animals. All of these types of standards must be considered and adhered to when designing a product, such as a tag or a reader. Additionally, many products support more than one standard.

The leading bodies issuing RFID related standards are:

International Organizations
GS1 - EPCglobal
IEC - International Electrotechnical Commission
ISO - International Standards Organization
JTC 1 – A joint committee of ISO and IEC (Joint Technical Committee)

Regional
CEN - European Committee for Standardization
NAFTA - North American Free Trade Agreement

Industry Specific
AAR - Association of American Railroads S-918 mandated standard for automatic equipment identification.
AIAG - Automotive Industry Standards Group; includes Tire and Wheel Label and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Standard (also known as AIAG B-11)
ATA - American Trucking Associations standard for automatic equipment identification.
- American Society for Testing and Materials
IATA - International Air Transport Association

Organizations that issue Radio Frequency standards
ETSI - European Telecommunications Standards Institute
FCC - United States Federal Communications Commission
ERO - European Radiocommunications Office
Standards have and will continue to have tremendous effects on the way companies do business throughout the world. It is in your company's best interest to participate in the development of standards as it helps to control your destiny. Companies that don't participate often have to change business practices after a standard has been ratified and are left playing catch-up with those that defined it.

Ultimately, what makes a true standard is who adopts it. When the US DoD, and the largest companies on the planet are using the same technology, I'd call it a standard.

As many RFID standards are still being developed and even more being updated, I encourage you to check the governing authority websites for the latest information.

Related Articles:

 » ISO RFID Standards: A Complete List

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