• United States
Executive Editor

Appliance controls RFID traffic

Jul 05, 20043 mins
Network Security

As companies begin to scale their radio frequency identification implementations from pilot to production mode, gear brought online for reading wireless tags needs to be on par with corporate network standards.

In a production environment, RFID readers need to behave less like simple radio transceivers that pass along unfiltered data and more like network routers capable of routing data intelligently between systems. “An RFID reader can’t be some weird thing that you can’t authenticate or manage remotely,” says Kevin Ashton, vice president of marketing at ThingMagic, a start-up that makes RFID readers.

To that end, ThingMagic last week announced the Mercury4T, an RFID reader that scans supply-chain items, such as cases and pallets of goods, for their electronic product code (EPC) and passes along the information to enterprise databases and business applications. (Managed by international standards body EPCglobal, an EPC is a unique identifier that can be associated with operational data, such as an item’s origination or its production date.)

Similar to RFID readers from other vendors such as Applied Wireless, the Mercury4T is designed to be deployed in settings such as a distribution center to improve supply-chain operations. From a fixed mount, it receives EPC data from up to eight antennas positioned nearby that capture tag information as shipments pass through loading dock doors, for example.

The Mercury4T contains a 266-MHz Intel network processor and embedded Linux operating system; it can capture, manage and process EPC data 100 times faster than ThingMagic’s previous iteration, Ashton says.

What differentiates the appliance from other RFID readers is that it’s designed to simultaneously read multiple tag variants, including high-frequency and UHF tags carrying an EPC, and tags that conform to international standards such as ISO 18000-6B and UCODE EPC 1.19.

For example, a company could deploy a dual-band version of the Mercury4T that combines UHF and high-frequency ports. Multi-protocol support is critical, Ashton says. Different frequency tags work best on different products, such as liquids or metal items. In an enterprise setting, it’s unlikely one kind of tag will suffice for every RFID application, Ashton says.

The Mercury4T speaks TCP/IP and supports standard network protocols, including Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol for configuring devices on a network; SNMP for performing remote diagnostics and management functions; and 820.11x for communicating via wireless LANs. A Web application powered by an on-board Web server controls tag read and write functions. Users can upload software to support new RFID tag protocols and frequencies as they become available.

ThingMagic included on-board general-purpose computing resources in the Mercury4T to let users build custom tag-filtering and analysis functions. Users can program the Mercury4T to prioritize certain traffic – such as data related to a shipment discrepancy, which might indicate a theft.

ThingMagic handles reader design; its partners Tyco International and Omron manufacture the readers and sell them for about $2,500.