UK to get RFID educational centre

The Department of Trade and Industry is partnering with Microsoft and Intel to create a centre where companies can learn more about the emerging bar-code replacement technology

UK companies looking to find out more about Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) could soon be able to visit an educational centre to get the latest information on the emerging technology thanks to an initiative backed by the government and leading IT vendors.

The RFID Centre is a joint project from the DTI and organisations including Intel and Microsoft to showcase a range of RFID applications and provide "impartial" advice and testing services to UK and European businesses.

The unit is an attempt to create a hybrid facility that combines the best of academic, industry and government thinking on RFID according to Ed Cowley, director of the RFID Centre. He added that the foresight of the DTI has been fundamental in putting Britain ahead in the adoption of RF technology.

"We want to provide an independant facility where people can learn about RFID technology and how it integrates with other technologies such as Wi-Fi," he said.

The centre will most likely share facilities with an existing research or academic organisation in West London and is expected to be up and running by the end of this year, said Cowley.

The DTI holds RFID in high regard and even claims the bar-code replacement is set to transform the UK economy. "It is early days with RFID but it's taking off rapidly. An independent centre is vital for educating and assisting organisations in deploying the technology," said Richard Foggie, head of the eServices Group at the DTI. "No organisation engaged in the production, movement or sale of physical goods can afford to ignore it."

The RFID Centre is also collaborating with institutions such as the Building Research Establishment (BRE), which provides technical testing services and supply chain management specialist the Cranfield School of Management

BT and services firm Deloitte have also announced a separate collaboration around RFID. The firms have set up an RFID discovery programme that they claim will ease the path for successful adoption of the technology.

BT recently created a specific business unit to target RFID deployments called BT Auto-ID Services. The telco has released some more details about the unit, including the fact that it will provide a suite of managed RFID services that will integrate with customers' existing ERP and warehouse management software.

BT Auto-ID Services chief executive Ross Hall likened the infrastructure around RFID to the telephone network, with BT in the middle acting as central hub or switch -- feeding in data from tags and dishing out information to a company's internal systems. "BT's expertise in IP infrastructure and data management, combined with our unrivalled global network, makes BT the obvious choice for highly scalable and secure Auto-ID services," he said.

Deloitte and BT claim they will also focus on helping manufacturers comply with RFID mandates from retailers such as Wal-Mart and Tesco. Last year, Wal-Mart set a deadline of January 2005 for 100 of its biggest suppliers to RFID tagging into their supply chains. Initially the requirement for case-and-pallet level tagging but the retailer has long-term goals of item-level tagging and further.

Analyst Forrester has been one of the few voices advising caution amid the considerable hype surrounding RFID. At the end of March, the analyst issued a report warning that most RFID technology is still immature and it would cost the average Wal-Mart supplier up to $9m (£5.02m) dollars to comply with the retailers mandate.

"There is no business case for most suppliers in the short term," said Forrester Research senior analyst Christine Spivey Overby. "The technology is not ready, and there is a lack of deep expertise in the industry to help suppliers implant RFID."

For more on RFID, check out the RFID Special Report and Toolkit.