Technologies to watch: RFID, maps and grids

RFID, mapping and grid computing aren't exactly new terms, but companies may just view them in a brand new manner in 2006.

Technologies come and go fast, but some have the ability to brush off shaky starts to emerge more sexy than ever.

Such technologies continue to appeal because of their strong business and application value. ZDNet Asia takes a look at some of these technologies and outline their impact and challenges in the year ahead.

When tracking means big business
Market analyst Datamonitor predicts that the RFID (radio frequency identification) market--including hardware, software and services--will be worth US$6.1 billion by 2010. The figure is expected to be triple that of the market size in 2005. Fellow analyst Gartner, on the other hand, put it at a more conservative US$3 billion, adding that adoption will accelerate by 2007.

Outlook.06

What's hot
Businesses are finding new applications for radio frequency identification tags, including security and inventory tracking.

Bottom line:
Although there are still frequency and interopability issues to address, the technology is garnering growing interesting in several industry sectors. Gartner estimates the RFID market will be worth US$3 billion by 2010.

If the estimates are anything to go by, the wireless tracking industry will see increased momentum in the year ahead. Costs and availability of standards remain key issues affecting the adoption of the technology. High costs of RFID sensors and chips have been commonly cited as a barrier to adoption by businesses, but industry players are generally optimistic that costs are gradually coming down.

While retail has been an early adopter of RFID, one industry that has been tipped to invest heavily in the technology is healthcare. RFID technology has also made its way into airline baggage systems, U.S. Army, passports.

Software giant Microsoft is also set to join in the fray--it announced in March that it will introduce a software package in 2006 to help companies manage RFID.

Mapping finds its way to more markets
Location-based services were talked about years ago, but it was not only until wireless technologies slowly began to move mainstream that furthered the potential of mapping and location services.

In 2005, search giants up the ante with new mapping services and tools. Google launched a free satellite mapping service in June. That same month, Microsoft MSN introduced a local search function that yields location-specific results for searches and incorporates maps and satellite images.

Only one month later, Microsoft announced a test version of Virtual Earth for U.S. users, which links to yellow-pages directories. Google promptly responded with Google Hybrid. Yahoo also announced an improved, beta version, of its Yahoo Maps service in November.

Singapore-based agis is also making waves in this area, developing and selling over 1,000 copies of an application that allows users of Symbian-based cellphones to access location-based services in Singapore. The company has plans to break into other countries in the region, including India and Malaysia.

As with any new technology, the benefits in location-based and mapping services have to be weighed against the risks or costs. While satellite images have proven useful in monitoring weather and disaster conditions, concerns have been raised by various parties, including governments, on the possibility of terrorists using such publicly available information to carry out destructive activities. 2006 may not be the year for mapping services but expect more new developments in this exciting new area.

Power to the grid
If 2005 was the year IT giants made stakes in computing grids, 2006 could be the year that the grandiose plans for allowing different machines to work together and share resources for computing jobs will be fulfilled.

Indian IT outsourcer Tata Consultancy Services said in September it was setting up a lab in New Delhi to work on technologies including grid computing. A week later, Microsoft declared that it will associate with grid industry standards bodies and create a version of Windows compatible with grid computing. Sun Microsystems, IBM and Oracle, also have gained momentum in this area over the last 12 months.

Suddenly everyone wants to get on the grid, a market tipped to be globally worth about US$12 billion by 2007, according to analyst IDC.

There appears to be potential for more businesses in the Asia-Pacific region, which trails behind the United States and Europe in adoption, to move toward grid computing. Nearly 60 percent of businesses surveyed recently envisioned a future that encompasses the technology.

Sun Microsystems, Oracle and AMD announced in November a Business Grid technology showcase based in Singapore to demonstrate the benefits of grid computing to companies in the region.

According to Roger Scott, vice president of technology sales consulting at Oracle Asia-Pacific, India in particularly has been making steady progress in this area, with large systems integrators and organizations starting "to embrace grid computing on a large scale".

In early 2005, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates commented that the price of bandwidth is holding back the spread of computing, but Sun Microsystems COO Jonathan Schwartz pointed to the cost of the computers. The latter has also hinted that prices will drop.

So how well will these technologies do in 2006? Stay tuned.

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