back to article RFID a 'technical blunder', report says

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a technology bubble ready to burst according to a new report by Dublin-based firm Heavey RF. The firm, which provides radio frequency products such as handheld scanners, has published a study entitled RFID.Bomb? "History is littered with large technical blunders; RFID in the supply …


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  1. peter Silver badge

    This has gotta be a first

    Still a bit early in the morning, I know... but when did a company flogging a product last produce a report telling you not to buy said product? Gotta be a first, surely.

  2. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Midas made Easy?

    How very convenient though for RFID to provide, to the comfort of your chair, all information rather than having to disturb oneself with having to scan a bar code with a scanner.

    With such a technology could one know who, what ,where, when and why without any trouble finding it with IT beaming the info wirelessly/stealthily to stations for InterNetworking.

    An Invisible Insider ..... or Invader, depending upon ones Predelictions........ but a definite Gold Mine in the Virtual Hands of the Right Frame of Mind.

  3. Chris Matchett

    Ads by Google

    I am loving the Ads by Google banner on this story

  4. Jags

    has El Reg became a newsletter for 'Heavey RF' ??

    I'm neither a Rocket nor a RFID Scientist. But as a loyal reader(and a technology enthusiast) I was shocked to see an article on El Reg that completely failed to mention a single solid reason(beside price, which eventually gonna come down as acknowledged by Heavey RF) against the technology it criticizing.

    So I went ahed & read the original 'rant' ( ).

    And What I found that, besides Mr.Ronan Clinton's( MD, Heavey RF) anti-Wal Mart vendetta, he mentioned only a single solid reason(no ‘one size fits all’, there are hundreds of different RFID tag types, short range, medium range, long range, LF, HF, UHF, 2.4GHz, 5GHz)

    While, just with one 'google', I found this:

    RFID Benefits:

    1, Reduce warehouse and distribution labor costs

    2, Reduce point-of-sale labor costs

    3, Reduce inventory

    4, Improve forecasting and planning

    5, Reduce theft

    6, Reduce out-of stock conditions

    7, Improve customer experience( details for each point is here:,295208,sid63_gci1153220,00.html )

    So my question to El Reg chief editor: has El Reg became a newsletter for Heavey RF ?

  5. A J Stiles

    @Ads by Google

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    # more similar statements

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    And surf in peace. My screen, my decision what gets displayed on it.

  6. Nick Ryan Silver badge


    Barcodes... are SO difficult to produce - you need a highly expensive, utterly standard printer (well, one of the very, very few that can print bitmapped images or structured drawings consisting of black rectangles), and then need to find one of the very few suppliers of compatible paper with thermally insensitive (or not) adhesive and a second sheet of really, really exclusive backing paper.

    These troubles make barcodes so expensive to use and deploy. Compare the huge costs of barcodes to deploying integrated RFID chips and antenna, which only need multi-part or adhesive labelling, can't go through hot processes (such as laser printers) and then require relatively high power and bulky focused programming systems, new reading systems which cost considerably more than barcodes and you have to check every one to make sure that it actually works, or that it accepted the codes that you programmed it with.

    Nope, can't see why barcodes are still around at all.

  7. Robert Graves

    Re: This has gotta be a first

    The same thoughts struck me. So what is their business model?

    In Victoria, Australia there is mandatory use of RFID tags for cattle and soon sheep. This has created a large market for various bits and pieces. But... the tags are not cheap ($4.50). Yes, they have to exist in a harsh environment, but I can't help feeling that the core cost is the electronics in the tag. Relatively speaking, for cattle the tag cost is low and advantage high. However you would want to have some pretty substantial savings to justify the costs over bar codes on most items. (Although the thought of barcoding cattle...)

  8. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Well with an attitude like that...

    I just hope Heavey RF aren't planning to work on government contracts any time soon. Blindly condemning a technology for not being robust enough, affordable or appropriate won't get them any public contracts.

    If Heavey RF want to become a serious player in the competitive world of porkbarrel IT they need to start arguing that the only problem with RFID is that it's not nearly expensive enough.

  9. C Greenock

    Printing barcodes. Not really that difficult.

    Quoting Nick Ryan - Posted Tuesday 24th July 2007 11:40 GMT

    "Barcodes... are SO difficult to produce...."

    Depends on the barcode. You can print (and I have done) code39 and codabar (2of5) barcodes on DEC LN03 & LN05 laser printers (yeah it was a long time ago) on standard Avery label stock.

    As long as you can send the necessary command sequences to the printer to a position the print 'head' and draw a line of the correct thickness and of a minimum length then, for those two barcodes at least, it's straightforward. Put it this way it's so easy you can do it from MUMPS.

    The labels produced were sufficiently robust to withstand repeated (10s to 100s of times) scanning using the old contact pens although the first read rate did drop when the toner levels got low, but you'd expect that.

  10. Richard

    @Ads by Google

    I've did the same Squid filtering years ago after The Register changed from their lightly ad-filled webpage model to the horrendous flashing, popping, concentration breaking approach to ads they have today. Its a lot easier on the eye now ... although I've now noticed a significant drop in interesting stories and I'm fed up with the Apple/iPhone bashing of late .. lots of heat and no light being generated.

  11. Andrew Moore

    And so it comes to pass...

    I believe I said the very same to Mr Clinton back in 1999

  12. Henk

    A first?

    As I read it it stated:

    Not worth it for small companies. Which I can understand perfectly. Best of breed does not mean best for you. Surely RFID is nice if you have a big transport business. Though not for small ones.

    As for this company telling ppl to back off. Having to respond to all kinds of customerrequests which usually lead to nothing does actually raise costs.

    I guess the bloke has a point..

  13. Sean Healey

    @A J Stiles

    Similarly, simply installing the 'adblock' extension in Firefox does a pretty reasonable job of enabling you to read content sans advertising ... without the hassle of having to set up and maintain a proxy server.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Could be a long term strategy

    I totally agree; it sounds strange, that at company is advising against the products they are selling. But maybe it’s really a smart (long term?) strategy:

    Assuming “We've done RFID implementation for some clients but pretty much 99 times out of 100 companies don't need it", is true, what happens next?

    Companies that have invested in RFID-technology and found they invested in something they really didn’t need, begins advising against RFID in great numbers (99:100 against). As a result – over time – sales are dropping and trust in RFID as a viable technology starts to fade.

    The bubble explodes and if Heavey RF does like every RFID technology supplier on the market, they are most likely out of business.

    Instead Heavey RF is amongst the first (?) to point out, that RFID may not be the best choice for everybody for everything.

    Now, who would you rather discuss your RFID-needs with? A company that tries to sell RFID-technology to everybody, or the company that has the guts to say; “maybe RFID is not the right choice for your, at this time”?

    I know who I would rater talk to, and Heavey RF has now marked themselves as such a company.

    And if the RFID bubble bursts, who will be left standing?

    The company that sold (and still tries to sell upgrades to and support of) RFID-technology to 100 clients, but where 99 clients stopped investing in (or even stopped using) RFID before or when the bubble burst?

    Or the company that chose to focus on the customers (ant therefore still can sell upgrades and support to customers) who had a real need for RFID and thus 80+ out of 100 continued using RFID after the bubble burst?

    I think we should be open to the idea that Heavey RF has done their homework.


    (In no way working with RFID, but just guessing all the same :o)

  15. Del Merritt

    Irony alert

    Quoting C Greenock, who was quoting Nick Ryan:

    NR: "Barcodes... are SO difficult to produce...."

    CG: Depends on the barcode. You can print (and I have done) code39 and codabar (2of5) barcodes on DEC LN03 & LN05 laser printers (yeah it was a long time ago) on standard Avery label stock.

    Re-read NIck's post, and you'll see that he's violently agreeing with you :-)

    I had an interesting chat with a school-mate recently, and his IT work with the garment industry made it clear that RFID is not ready for all. It's far easier and cheaper to track small bits of inventory with small bits of cheap and easy-to-print-and-peel paper than to fuss with an RFID tag. Of course, you could then scan the items as you put them in a shipping box and create a single RFID tag for the aggregate.

    So it really depends on the specific business need. No surprise there.

  16. Chris Matchett

    @@@@Ads by Google

    A) I normally do use Adblock but am at work.

    B) But you couldn't resist a bit of greasy, here's what I use and you should too nerdyship. I don't give a shit what .nix open source bollocks you think is great.

    C) Fact is in this case the Google adverts are funny and that was the point.

  17. Morten Ranulf Clausen


    "without the hassle of having to set up and maintain a proxy server."

    Wut hassle? I love the Proxomitron 'cause I'm in total control. I hate Firefox plugins/addons/general bloat because I'm not. Soon as someone comes out with a Firefox Light I'm on it. I don't want no steenkin' plugins. If you can't do it in plain old HTML, I'm not one of your customers. Period. Why does the world never learn...

    Oh, that managed to come out entirely off-topic. Well... Ob-comment: this company is dead. Try going against the stream in the tech world and you're out. Imagine what the world would come to if everyone applied cost-analysis and common sense to new technology. Why, pretty soon we'd have a load of boring, fully working, non-screwupable stuff! *shudder*

  18. C Greenock

    Irony alert...

    *chortle* That'll teach me to pay more attention. :)

  19. POPE Mad Mitch

    they have their place

    as i see it there are three things that rfid could give you in the distribution business.

    1. a longer serial number than a traditional barcode, so that each item can be uniquely numbered rather than just batch/type numbers. (think ean numbers on products, it tells you the product type, but theyre all the same one)

    this can be addressed just by using more dense barcodes, like any number of the 2d barcodes that exist and are seeing increasing use by postal couriers.

    2. storing data with the product itself. well the storage involved is pretty limited, typically a few kilobits of data. you could just keep slapping on extra barcode labels at each stage ;)

    3. reading the data from a (short) distance and many at once. Now this you cant do with barcodes, and is a massive boon to the likes of airports. it could massively cut the time it takes to locate that one passengers bags from an entire aircraft full. especially when traditionally they had to not only physically see each bag, but locate its tag and orient it in order to read the name. medium range rfid tags could allow the elimination of entire packing crates full in seconds.

    the other field where rfid is obviously a boon, is the places where smartcards were previously useful but not always practical, in say transport charging systems, door access systems etc. where the continual make/break of physical contacts leads to errors and damage.

  20. Dillon Pyron

    RFID and toll tags

    I worked at TI when RFID was first developed (I also saw DLP years before its releae). They set up a "toll station" in the back parking lot at Lewisville (where we made HARMs and developed JSOW). They could only test to about 85 mph due to space restrictions. The test car was a Buick l GNX.with the McLaren engine.

    They also had a test ranch with about 1000 head.

  21. Al Amet

    RFID's are a supplement not solution

    A friend of mine got a sample of what EMP can do to electronic equipment, tags, watches, etc. when a 2hp electric compressor motor blew. I had thought that this was a good example until after talking with a co-worker that knew of a business where he grew up that had the transformer out back hit by lightning and had it fry every piece of electronic equipment on the property. Because of the fact that EMP can fry the tags means that RFID tags will still need to be supplemented by bar codes or some other form of backup machine-readable identification. Heck even bar codes have a human readable number string so that if the scanner has trouble reading the tag, the ID number can still be typed in manually. Because the tags are not fullproof, RFID is not going to eliminate bar codes, just supplement them in some situations. I think that he's just wanting to make people realize that this isn't an end-all solution.

  22. RW

    Improved customer experience? I think not!

    Jags relayed to us...

    RFID Benefits: ...

    7, Improve customer experience

    Sez who? A lot of customers think RFID technology will intrude on their privacy. Some improvement that is!

    These so-called benefits sound like self-serving "good for the coroporations" spin, with the concept of helping the customer solve HIS problems lost in the shuffle.

    As for another point proffered by Jags,

    6, Reduce out-of stock conditions

    Wal-mart here, and its Canadian competitor, Zellers, are invariably out of stock of large numbers of products. If they can't do better with existing barcode technology, RFID technology isn't going to help one iota.

    [I should add that these companies' endless and frustrating out of stock conditions probably relate to the practice of not ordering new stock until a given product is totally out of stock or very nearly so. This protocol fails to take into account delivery times -- which can be very long indeed in western Canada. Bad system design, for sure. RFID technology won't help with this.]

  23. Michael

    Just to nitpick...

    @ Al Amet:

    The word you're looking for is "foolproof", not "fullproof".

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RFID and Market Forces

    It will be a *fantastic day* when RFID hits the shelves, as the consumer will finally be able to set the price (market forces at work - its the benefit of a global economy you know).

    Find a 5 pound wine, scan it, and either make your own tag, or upload the 5 pound scan to the 100 pound bottle's tag - and let the clerk take your fiver.

    There is plenty of documentation on RFID online - you can make your own portable EMP device from a disposable camera; should the vendor choose to lock his tags just nuke it and affix your own.

    And once this technology is integrated with the US voting system, the French will finally be able to get the president that they always wanted.

  25. b shubin

    Immature and expensive

    he may be wrong in the long term, but spot on in the short and medium term.

    this technology is too custom to be useful, is expensive to use, and has security issues. in the mass market, this usually leads to failure, and only the largest and most mature (in management, policies and procedures terms) product companies (as in, "they sell physical objects on a per-packaged-item basis") can benefit from this kind of real-time supply chain awareness at the current level of cost and complexity.

    the technology has to mature, commoditize, standardize, and address many of its current issues (like security).

    only then will RFID succeed in the mass market. it doesn't have to be great, just good enough (also has to be economically viable), but it isn't good enough yet.

  26. Ole Juul

    RFID security

    One problem with RFID is the lack of traditional security. There are few, if any, systems in place. Unauthorised, or undesirable, reading of the tags is quite possible, and likely. The signals can also be intersepted and retransmitted, so that a person reading the information could be misled. The work on RFID GUARDIAN at Vrie University is interesting. Check out:

    To quote from the site: "One such situation is unauthorized data collection, where attackers gather illicit information by either actively issuing queries to tags or passively eavesdropping on existing tag-reader communications.

    Other attacks include the unwanted location tracking of people and objects (by correlating RFID tag "sightings" from different RFID readers), and RFID tag traffic analysis (e.g. terrorist operatives could build a landmine that explodes upon detecting the presence of any RFID tag). "

    I suspect that if RFID becomes common, we will se a lot more theft as the effort becomes worthwile. It's a general problem with radio waves. They are just not private.

  27. kev conroy

    Cost Effective

    Barcodes, cheap.

    RFID, unlikely to be as cheap as ink and paper, no.

    When can I pick up my Eire MSc in business studies?

    Maybe you kids can't remember when barcodes first came out, but very few places could "read" them then, and the companies that could take advantage of the tech were the "wal marts" of the world. It will be the same with RFID.

    As for "terrorist bombs", don't make me laugh, they can't even blow up a Jeep, let alone build a device that goes off if you've bought 2-for-1 "Cathederal City Cheddar".

    LOL at "build EMP device out of camera" to steal a bottle of wine. Bloody geeks. Just put it inside your tin-foil-lined coat pocket and walk out the door, like shoplifters do today.

  28. Nathanael Bastone

    Can you imagine...

    how much time it would save in supermarkets? they could do away with cashiers all together, and customers would just wheel a trolly through a scanning point and all the tags would be read and the customer would then pay using their card (or by then, more likely their fingerprint,) and leave. It would end supermarket queues as the process would take seconds. For those paying by cash, a machine similar to one used to issue tickets for parking could be used (but more friendly, it would give you change.) Shopping could be loaded into bags as the shopper was shopping, and because the person walks through the scanner as well as the trolley, they could place items in their pockets (for easy access later) and they would still be charged, without having to remove them to scan. It would stop or really cut back thieving, as people would be made to leave via the scanners. I know technophobes wouldn't enjoy it, so maybe they could keep one cashier on, then it would be long queue or scanners, I know which I'd choose!

  29. Ed Deckard

    RFID not that cool yet, maybe quite cool later

    Okay, so RFID is expensive, unreliable and not really well understood. Sounds like every new technology, ever. I say let the early adopters work out the kinks and pay for the development costs. Once they do the advantages would be gigantic for someone in my line of business (retail management).

    Having the computer let me know I'm running out of 12oz Acme Beef & Gravy dog food, have only 3 packets of BBQ flavored brand X chips on the shelves, there's 2 cases of Texas Hot Queso Dip that expire this week sitting in storage and 8 cases of Leeton's Mint Tea hidden behind the beer in the cooler would make my job a heck of a lot easier. Of course, having adequate labor hours, storage space and maintenance budget would be even better, but that would require an act of God, not mere technology.

  30. Daniel Ballado-Torres


    "Put it this way it's so easy you can do it from MUMPS"

    Ow. I read "easy" and "MUMPS" in the same sentence. It's the only language I've seen that competes with Visual Basic as the worst language ever!

    Anyway, RFID isn't for everyone, that's what this report is all about. I've seen RFID deployed on some state government projects, just to fall into disrepair; there was a project to track the gov't vehicle maintenance with RFID. Problem?? All the authorized mechanics had to have a Palm with an RFID reader.

    The result: the RFID's see little use after being put on the vehicles.

  31. Mark

    This whole RFID thing...

    Jags - I believe that the paper was trying to point out that technical restrictions are more of an issue than cost. I know this, because I have seen RFID fail, and fail badly.

    You lost all credibility when you confessed to google-ing the benefits. Is the problem not as much the fact that the majority of the hype is generated from people looking up RFID in Google and believing what they are reading?

    One of the problems as I see it is that not enough people are writing articles about the reality of RFID. I wonder if the first hit you got on Google was from an integrator or some other company with a vested interest in RFID success. I'm sure if the internet had been as big in 1993 as it is now, it would be full of sites saying how great the Apple Newton is, or any of the other tried and failed technical advances.

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