Different European and US radio frequency identification (RFID) standards could add complexity and cost to the roll-out of the technology, analysts have warned.
EPCglobal, the body developing and promoting global common standards in RFID, plans to release a prototype of its UHF Generation 2 tagging and reader specification by June, with a fully approved standard due for release before December.
Retailers and fast-moving consumer goods firms Tesco, Wal-Mart and Nestlé, looking to integrate the successor to the barcode into their databases and supply chain and logistics software, welcomed the move towards common RFID standards across the globe.
But delays by the European Telecoms Standards Institute (ETSI) in approving its EN 302 208 RFID specifications, which govern radio frequencies and power levels for tags across Europe, have slowed plans by retailers to ask their European suppliers to implement RFID.
"We are unable to ask manufacturers to introduce case-level radio barcodes until the standards and technology are in place - it's a European problem," said Colin Cobain, IT director at Tesco.
Until ETSI standards are decided this autumn, manufacturers and retailers operating on a pan-European or global level will find it difficult to develop a universal strategy for the roll-out of RFID, predicted analyst firm Butler Group.
"We have the distinct possibility that we will see another VHS and Betamax situation, with different standards being adopted," said Alan Lawson, Butler Group research analyst.
European ETSI standards are expected to dictate that European RFID systems operate at a different wattage to those in North America due to health and safety reasons, making it harder for multinational firms to have a consistent infrastructure across the globe.
"It has a real possibility of adding complexity and cost for people looking to roll out RFID in the supply chain," said Lawson.
EPCglobal also said it is in the process of testing a global object naming system, a DNS-style directory that points users to information about EPC tags and a conformance programme to ensure that RFID tag and reader manufacturers comply to the new universal standard.
"We will have a fully approved standard by December 2004 but, due to work already undertaken, people won't have to wait until then," said Michele Southall, director of industry development at EPCglobal.
But Tesco also urged that the new EPCglobal standard should be backwards-compatible with UHF Generation 1 RFID products, so that early adopters would not lose competitive advantage from projects already carried out.
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