February 3, 2004 9:21 AM PST

BT takes stock of radio ID projects

Telecom giant BT is pushing technology to help companies better manage radio frequency identification projects. But research shows RFID is failing to catch on in U.K. businesses.

As ZDNet UK reported exclusively last week, BT has created a special business unit, BT Auto-ID Services, to focus on RFID. The telecom company said the unit will provide a suite of managed RFID services that will integrate with customers' existing enterprise resource planning and warehouse management software.

BT Auto-ID Services Chief Executive Ross Hall likened the RFID infrastructure to a 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 (Internet Protocol) 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.

BT Auto-ID will provide the tag and reader infrastructure for customers' products or inventory and then route the resulting data over broadband links to its own data processing center, where the information will be converted into a form that can be pumped back into a company's existing systems. On receiving the data from a customer's site, BT will manage the distribution of data to various sites in the customer's supply chain.

But despite the momentum behind RFID technology, BT said it has a realistic view on how long the technology will take to become pervasive. "RFID is often referred to as a 'better barcode,' but the reality is that both technologies are likely to coexist for the foreseeable future. That's why we support barcode applications as well as RFID," BT's Ross said.

A report published this week showed that 85 percent of U.K. companies have no plans to introduce the technology into their organization.

The survey, from not-for-profit organization E.centre, showed that while 88 percent of companies questioned saw the benefits of RFID to enhance their supply-chain and inventory systems, only 8 percent are using or piloting RFID.

E.centre's chief executive, Steve Cousins, said the results of the survey revealed a widespread indifference to a technology that will bring significant benefits to businesses. "RFID is here to stay. It will enable all trading partners in a supply chain, in any industry sector, to track and trace products in real time," he said.

E.centre is part of EAN International, which promotes the EPCglobal Network standard for RFID. The lack of standards for RFID has been identified as one of the chief impediments to more widespread adoption of the technology.

Geoffrey O'Neil, director of strategic projects for Woolworths UK, which is carrying out a large-scale RFID trial, said there needs to be an international collaboration on RFID standards for the technology to be a real success. "We need cooperation on a global basis. We don't want different flavors of RFID developing in clusters around the world," he said.

BT said it has been at the "forefront of RFID thinking" for many years and had its first practical involvement with the technology as part of the U.K. government's initial road-pricing trials in 1994.

Andrew Donoghue of ZDNet UK reported from London.

 

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