IoT puts RFID back on the podium

The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to totally change the way we interact with the world. But to work effectively it will require efficient interoperability and communication with a range of different technologies. One of these is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID).

RFID has been around since the 1970s, finding its niche predominantly in supply chains, agriculture and security access cards. The technology uses radio waves to identify people or objects and devices by reading data stored on a wireless ‘tag’ from a distance without physical contact or line of sight. In fact you could consider that the Internet of Things (IoT) has its roots in RFID.

The connected world

McKinsey has estimated the IoT’s potential value at between $3.9 and $11.1 trillion by 2025, which would represent about 11 percent of the world economy. But, according to McKinsey, the speculated value can only be maximized via interoperability between IoT systems to capture and share data.  Meaning IoT, machine to machine (M2M) communication and of course, RF technologies.

Effective IoT communication between devices will require automatic identification technology to identify, verify, communicate and store data. RFID tags make devices uniquely identifiable. Smart devices will also include an embedded sensor to measure specific data such as temperature.  With the ability to create reports from real-time data, everyone from healthcare to transport will be able to make more accurate decisions faster.

RFID still has a role to play

Although attention has been focused on the IoT, RFID has not gone away. General Steel Holdings, for example, recently launched a new UHF RFID tag for iron and steel, and a cloud-based Internet of Things platform to enhance steel logistics and bulk commodity management and planning. The cloud-based platform integrates UHF RFID tags with sensors, satellite communication, data collection devices, wireless vehicle terminals and handsets to provide real-time data transmissions and long-distance tracking.

China recently saw the largest single order ever for RFID – to be used for National ID cards. RFID is being used in multiple projects in China – which will all eventually connect into IoT. These include transport, bank cards with high security requirements, passports, subway tickets and smart metering.

Aside from location, RFID chips are becoming important information gatherers. RFID’s killer app may still be inventory management, but by combining it with a mix of identification, sensor and cloud technologies, we will see a host of other applications appear, such as home automation.

Take France’s Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, for example, which became the world’s first to let passengers pass through checks, controls and gates using only an NFC mobile phone equipped with an Orange NFC SIM, which is tapped on an RFID reader. This acts as the passenger’s ‘boarding card’, providing parking access and real-time information on flight times, boarding gates and more.

IoT rejuvenates RFID – but what’s next?

Connected devices are at the forefront of the Internet’s future. RFID technology has played a major part in automating labor-intensive processes, authenticating goods and providing real-time inventory management. But with the growth of IoT, its role will be much bigger and more complex as interoperability increases.

RFID 2.0 UHF is another development with much to offer the IoT arena, providing a much longer read range, cheaper deployment and the ability to verify tags more precisely in more complex situations, such as very large warehouses. 

Earlier this year, Disney Research demonstrated that battery-free, RFID tags can be used to inexpensively and unobtrusively determine how people use and interact with daily objects. The Disney research showed that signals transmitted by RFID tags provide a unique RF signature which can be used to determine whether a tagged item was being touched or moved.

Up until now IoT-enabled wireless sensors have been attached to objects. But the size of sensors, their relatively high cost and the need for battery replacement has limited their applications. RFID tags, however, are commercially available technology, cheap and easy to apply to a host of everyday objects. The Disney project found that their IDSense system could simultaneously track 20 objects in a room, spotlighting four classes of movements with 93 percent accuracy.

Into the new era

Orange Business today focuses on connecting objects and M2M, digitalizing customer experience alongside big data and data analysis. Orange Applications for Business supports customers in this digital transformation by focusing on and IoT and on developing communications between objects and devices. Included in its platforms are RFID tags and NFC.

Orange is also supporting startups specializing in IoT. This includes opening up online distribution channels, relationship building support with global manufacturers and providing access to various communication models.

“We are convinced that connected objects will play a very important role in tomorrow’s Internet. By supporting IoT startups, Orange will help accelerate the development of innovative SMEs and will facilitate the distribution of their connected objects,” explained Stéphane Richard, the Chairman and CEO of Orange.

RFID and the IoT: in numbers

Read more about M2M and the Internet of Things from Orange Business, and find out what Orange Applications for Business can do for you.