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 Friday, February 24, 2006

"ITU can play an important role in furthering international standardization efforts (for networked RFID) in addition to raising awareness about the challenges and opportunities of this exciting new technology." That was a conclusion of attendees representing standards bodies, telecoms service providers, vendors and academia at a recent workshop Networked RFID: Systems and Services.

Participants agreed that standardization in the field is essential in order to roll out the technology on a global scale. Experts agree that standards so far have developed in a fragmented way; one example is the to-date weak coordination between different regional bodies. Event steering committee chairman, Pierre-Andre Probst, said that many new work areas have been identified for ITU as a result of the workshop, giving further momentum to work already started in some ITU-T Study Groups. Contributions on RFID are expected in the Study Group meetings taking place in April (Korea, Switzerland and Japan) and based on the outcome of discussions here an action plan will be developed in May.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a key part of the so-called Internet of Things, or as one session chair put it: "RFID is part of a larger vision of future technological ubiquity".

Object-to-object communication has the potential to revolutionise commerce, with many areas of business already benefiting from the use of RFID. But there are wide ranging applications for this new technology beyond just making money. For example in Japan there have been trials to use RFID to track children on the way to school, making sure they get safely to their destination. In European ski resorts, RFID ensures that skiers don't have to fish around in their pockets with cold hands for their ski passes now that RFID equipped passes have become widely adopted. A more serious upshot of this application is that now resort managers know how many people are on the slopes at any given time, crucial information in an emergency.

As the technology takes off, increasingly complicated applications are envisaged. RFID systems are moving from closed reader and tag systems to systems where there is a need for a network to share data. While now incipient, presenters at the workshop forecast that the message traffic will increase exponentially over the next 10 years, which will have an impact on existing and future communication infrastructure. And this is where the need for standards becomes more of an imperative.

The 'Internet of things' it was said will lead to a new set of network requirements and capabilities as potentially billions of tags start to transmit data. Network requirements and capabilities for more-complicated services that include sensors must also be taken into account. Sensors can monitor environmental variables. Their combination with RFIDs will not only identify people or objects, but also provide in addition to location other dynamic attributes such as temperature, movement and acceleration.

Specifically ITU expects to examine network and service architecture, requirements for machine-to-machine communication, security, information service protocols, interoperability, data format, radio frequency spectrum allocation, network performance and quality of service in its technical study groups.

As far as security is concerned, consumer protection, namely privacy and data protection, has hindered user acceptance and so addressing this area is seen as a prerequisite for public acceptance. ITU has much experience in this field, particularly in the important area of alignment with policy and regulatory issues.

Global frequency harmonization is a hindrance according to some experts towards achieving supply chain efficiencies and security. This is a topic expected to be raised at the upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), Geneva, 2007, and workshop participants suggested the need to establish RFID as a Primary Service.

ITU is also expected to help coordinate ongoing standards work in the field in order to avoid work duplication. Among the groups operating in the area are ISO, ETSI, IEEE, EPCglobal and Near Field Communication Forum.

For more on RFID; ITU-T's Technology Watch, ITU's Strategy and Policy Unit (SPU) report, the Internet of Things). All presentations and an audio archive of the event are also available.