RFID Revolution
By Carlo Longino, Fri Apr 15 00:30:00 GMT 2005

A well-known futurist says RFID stands to have a major impact, but not from tagging boxes and luggage.

Paul Saffo of the Institute for the Future told an RFID conference this week that the technology has tremendous potential -- but not in the ways they probably imagine, and not if they can't move past standards battles and other internal industry issues.

"Your business is just at the point where you could bury yourself in RFID issues and that would be a horrible mistake, because you'll miss the big opportunities," Saffo is quoted as saying in RFID Journal. "Your business is too small to generate its own lift. The biggest impact on your business is going to come from things utterly outside of it. So pay attention to the things on the outside."

It's an obvious, but completely relevant and needed message. Too many wireless technologies -- ultrawideband being the most obvious example -- get bogged down in relatively pointless battles that keep them off the markets and out of people's hands, where they can find useful applications.

RFID tends to elicit a "who cares?" reponse from many people when they're presented with the laundry list of its intended applications: package tracking, luggage handling, door-lock replacement and so on. And really, those are pretty ho-hum for your average person. But the point Saffo is making is the sooner RFID can get to market in some form where applications can be based around it, the better for all concerned.

He's also trying to get the RFID industry to think in terms of creating a platform, rather than just a suite of limited applications. It's this type of thinking that's made NTT DoCoMo's FeliCa contactless IC system a success. While the initial uses of FeliCa included contactless payment (it's most well-known use), FeliCa is more than just a wallet replacement. It's a technology platform that's flexible, expandable and open to new applications. If it could only be used for payments, it would be much less useful. But since companies can create new applications for it, its usefulness is enhanced, and in turn it becomes more successful.

Box-tagging isn't real exciting, for sure. And there are only so many boxes out there that need to be tagged. But certainly somebody, somewhere's got some cool ideas for RFID applications.