The Truth about IC Tags Understood through Q&A

Q1. How do IC tags operate?

Dividing IC tags in general terms, there are the active type and the passive type. The active type is loaded with a battery in the manner of an ordinary wireless device, and it emits radio waves on its own. It is the same as a cell-phone responding to radio waves from a base station and replying. The passive-type tag, although it itself is not loaded with a battery, modulates radio waves from a reader/writer (a read-in device) and reflects them. We call this the back-scatter method (but in the case where the frequency is VHF or above). The electronic circuits of the passive-type IC tag operate by extracting a minute current from the radio waves from the reader/writer. Active-type IC tags are used in such things as marine transportation containers. The IC tags that everyone is attempting to attach to merchandise and containers in the distribution field are the passive type. As for the middle between the active type and the passive type, there is the semi-passive (semi-active) type that does not emit radio waves on its own, but is loaded with a battery for use in running the electronic circuits (Table 1).

Table 1 Active- and Passive-Type IC Tags

Active Type

Passive Type

Semi-Passive Type
Transmits radio waves on it own



Back-scattering or electromagnetic induction



Loaded with a battery



High output reader/writer to remote tag




In other words, with the passive type, instead of it not being necessary to change a battery, it is necessary to supply energy from the outside. The strength of the radio waves that are emitted from the read-in device are in inverse proportion to the square of the range. IC tags reflect those radio waves (while modulating them). Because the strength of the reflected radio waves also decrease in inverse proportion to the square of the range, it comes about that the radio waves that have returned to the spot of the read-in device decrease in inverse proportion to the fourth power of the range. When the range is two meters compared to when it is one meter, the reflected radio waves become 1/24 = 1/16. Furthermore, at three meters they are 1/81, at four meters they are 1/256; thus we learn that the attenuation is severe. When attempting to read from a distance of several meters or more, we must release high output radio waves from the read-in device.

Moreover, when the range between the reader/writer and the IC tag is smaller than λ/2π (λ is the wavelength [TN1]), electromagentic induction occurs in the near field, and when larger, electrical coupling occurs in the far field. In the near field, the magnetic field that comes out of the antenna creates an electric field, and, furthermore, with the magnetic field, although it is possible to distinguish between the electric field and the magnetic field, above a certain distance they collect together an operate as a electromagnetic field. Normally, in a case when radio waves come out of an antenna, it becomes a matter of the far field. If we think of it at a range of one meter, λ is about six meters; in other words, above 50 MHz, electrical coupling becomes dominant.

At 13.56 MHz, the boundary between the near field and the far field is λ/2π = 3.5 meters, and because we use it within a range of several tens of centimeters at the most, it is electromagnetic induction; on the other hand, with 900 MHz, this value is 5 centimeters, for 2.45 GHz it is 1.9 centimeters, and because we use both of these at ranges greater than these, it is electric coupling for communicating with radio waves. Outside of these, there are also static electricity coupling and optical systems. In addition, there is also electromagnetic coupling, which is what we call something with a high coupling rate in electromagnetic induction (Table 2).

Table 2 Classification of IC Tags
Frequency System
135 KHz LF (long wave) Electromagnetic induction, several millimeters to several centimeters
13.56 MHz HF (short wave) Electromagnetic induction, several centimeters to one meter
860~960 MHz UHF (ultra short wave) Radio wave*, several meters to 10 meters
2.45 GHz microwave Radio wave*, within several meters
* Back-scattering in the passive types

Moreover, among IC tags, depending on their use in the manner of memory, there are such things as:

  • Read only (only read in from)
  • Write once/read many (can only be written into once)
  • Read/write (reading and writing both possible)

In a case where we use large-capacity, high-cost tags in a closed environment, read/write are typical because we use them repeatedly time and time again, but in the case of use-and-throw-away tags that we use in the management of distribution and the like in open environments, the small-capacity, low-cost read only and write once types are used.

Q2. I have heard that the UHF band is the most outstanding.

Ultra High Frequency (UHF) refers to radio waves between the 300 MHz~3,000 MHz frequencies, but it seems like there are a lot instances in which people call those of the 800 MHz~900 MHz band UHF. The 2.45 GHz IC tags are UHF in terms of frequency, but people do not call them UHF tags, rather they call them microwave tags.

Speaking from principle, to the extent that the wavelength of radio waves is short, in other words their frequency is high, their propensity to go straight ahead is high. When compared to the 2.4 GHz band, the UHF band, in other words radio waves between 800 MHz~900 MHz, the propensity of these radio waves to go straight ahead is low, and since they diffract, they easily move around things into hidden spaces, and, moreover, it is a fact that they easily travel far away. As for television radio waves, the low frequency VHF travel better than UHF, and the traveling of the cell-phone radio waves utilizing the 2 GHz band (FOMA, etc.) compared to the 800 MHz band (PDC, etc.) is a similar thing from today.

Because the UHF band easily moves around things, it is a fact that it is also easy to read in IC tags that are attached to stacked and hidden freight, but since it depends on not going straight ahead but rather around things, it appears that the range at which read-in is possible changes discontinously, and in places wouldn't expect you go from being able to read to being unable to read.

Also, in contrast to the 2.45 GHz band, which has a wavelength of 12 centimeters, for the 900 MHz band it's 33 centimeters. Because the antenna inevitably becomes larger compared to the 2.45 GHz band, it's all right if you are attaching it to containers, pallets, and crates, but attaching it to individual merchandise items becomes difficult.

With both UHF and microwave IC tags, when you attach them to merchandise that contains liquids, the radio waves do not reach them well. Metals also screen the radio waves and reflect them, and thus there is a problem. In regard to liquids, the 13.56 MHz IC tags work better, and although the range is short, 135 KHz IC tags are often employed for use with metals.

Table 3 Characteristics of IC Tags
Frequency System Characteristic
135 KHz LF (long wave) Electromagnetic induction Good with metal
13.56 MHz HF (short wave) Electromagnetic induction Good with moisture
860~960 MHz UHF (ultra short wave) Radio wave Good balance
2.45 GHz microwave Radio wave Small antenna

Technologically, UHF doesn't require high-level technology to the extent of microwaves. In a case where the radio wave output is a high output of several watts, the tags are appropriately attached to things, an appropriate antenna is used, and so on, they show their power. In the case of a high output of one watt or above, we cannot say that there is entirely no effect to people's bodies, pacemakers, etc., and thus caution is required.

As for the UHF band, the bandwidth that can be used varies according to the country. In the U.S., it's 902~928 MHz. In Europe, it was only 869.4~869.65 MHz, but it is expected that it will come about that 865~868 MHz can be used. On the other hand, in Japan, because it is expected that UHF band tags will assigned to a band adjacent to cell-phones, 950~956 MHz, different care from other countries will be necessary (Table 4).

Table 4 Characteristics of UHF Tags
  • The frequency at which it is easiest for signals to travel the farthest
  • A high output reader is necessary when reading passive-type tags from far away
  • Since the radio waves easily move around things, even tags attached to freight that is hidden or stacked up can be recognized
  • Not good with liquids and metals
  • Doesn't require high-level technology to the extent of microwaves
  • Since the wavelength is 33 centimeters, even a half wavelength antenna comes to 16 centimeters, which is rather large to attach to things
  • This is a band that is adjacent to cell-phone bands in Japan; interference is a worry

Q3. I have heard that only Japan seems to be late in the utilization of UHF band IC tags.

In Japan, we are at present deliberating a UHF tag standard, but we still have not made a final decision. Certainly, it seems like things will become stricter in Japan than in the U.S., but Europe will be stricter. There are even reports of the sort that only Japan is late in getting on the bus [1], but when we view the world, only the U.S. is pushing it.

Japan is Deliberating UHF Tags at Present

In regard to a Japanese UHF band IC tag standard, at present, the Information and Communications Technologies Subcommittee of the Information and Communications Deliberation Committee [TN2] is carrying out deliberations in the "Low Power Wireless Systems Commission" concerning "the technological requirements for a mobile identification system (UHF band electronic tag system)."

To begin with, since cell-phones ended up utilizing the UHF band in Japan, it was not possible to use it, but because KDDI terminated the operation of PDC, 950 MHz~956 MHz is empty, and it has been forecast that it will be allocated to IC tags. However, because NTT DoCoMo is using the UHF band with cell-phones even at present, there will be trouble if unnecessary radio waves are emitted. In order to lessen unnecessary radio waves to the outside of the bandwidth, generally a buffer band called a guard band is established, but in the draft on this occasion, it looks like there will be no guard band on the upper side of a bandwidth that has 2 MHz on the lower side.

How much output should be allowed for UHF band tags has not been made clear. Should high output four watt Equivalent Isotropically Radiated Power (EIRP) in the manner of the U.S be permitted, should it become two watt Effective Radiated Power (ERP) in the manner of Europe, should limits be attached to the method of use, etc., are points that weigh on one's mind [*1].

Spurious (Unnecessary Radio Waves) a Problem

Something that has become a problem is spurious, in other words unnecessary radio waves emitted from the reader/writer. According to a report [2], as the spurious permissible limit in a "UHF band electronic tag system work group," the side promoting UHF tags was advocating -36 dBm = 0.25 x 10-3 mW, while NTT DoCoMo was advocating -84.8 dBm = 0.331 x 10-8 mW [*2].

In other words, they are in opposition to each other by a difference of about 100,000 times. What will they do to compromise on this great difference? Strength has been entered on both sides, and the situation seems to be that they cannot yield on things. How they will issue a conclusion within the year is something that will be of interest. If it is close to the numbers that NTT DoCoMo is advocating, and if it's not a place that is separated from a cell-phone base station by several kilometers or a place from which radio waves cannot leak out, then the possibility comes forth that the UHF tags will not be able to operate. On the other hand, if it comes down to numbers close to those of the side promoting UHF tags is asserting, it seems like interference with cell-phones will come to be conspicuous.

Furthermore, according to "A Study Concerning the Possibility of Using Electronic Tags together with Existing Systems" [3] by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the range at which a cell-phone base station receives influence from an IC tag reader/writer was calculated as in Table 5, and the range at which it receives influence even in the real world seems longer than one thought.

Table 5 Distance at which the Base Station Receives Influence (Kilometers)

Free Space Propagation Model

Two-Wave Model, etc.



100 or more


Figure 1. Final regulation draft
of ETSI EN 302 208

Europe's New Regulation Draft beyond Japan's

On the other hand, Europe's new electromagnetic wave regulation draft ETSI EN 302 208 (Fig. 1) planned for adoption in the fall has been made up so that a total of three bandwidths, 2 MHz (2 Watt ERP), 0.4 MHz (0.5 Watt ERP), and 0.6 MHz (0.1 Watt ERP) as shown in Table 6, can be used for UHF band IC tags.

Table 6 Europe's New Electromagnetic Wave Regulation Draft ETSI EN 302 208




Band Divisions

LBT (Listen before Talk) Sensitivity

865.6 MHz~867.6 MHz

2 MHz

2 Watt ERP

200 KHz x 10

-96 dB

867.6 MHz~868 MHz

0.4 MHz

0.5 Watt ERP

200 KHz x 2

-90 dB

865.0 MH~865.6 MHz

0.6 MHz

0.1 Watt ERP

200 KHz x 3

-83 dB

In Europe, on the UHF band under the EN 300 220 regulations up to now, it has only been possible to send out 0.5 Watt ERP in the 0.25 MHz of 869.4~869.65 MHz. The duty cycle also has been set at 10 percent, and you have only been able to send out radio waves for 1/10 of the period. That has been greatly widened to a band of 3 MHz, the output also has gone up four times to a maximum of 2 Watt ERP, and the duty cycle rules also have disappeared, although conditions are attached. Because we can use 6 MHz in Japan (there are people, however, who say there are actually only 4 MHz, when you consider that there is no guard band at the upper end), and, reaching over to the U.S., a huge band of 26 MHz between 902~926 MHz, this is constrained when compared to others.

Moreover, something even more troublesome in Europe's new regulation draft is the Listen before Talk (LBT) sensitivity rule. LBT means in a case where a reader/writer is about to send out radio waves, it must first check if a communications device, such as another reader/writer, is not already sending out radio waves on that frequency. If radio waves have been emitted, that frequency must be abandoned, and the reader/writer must move to a different frequency. LBT sensitivity has been made -96~-83 dB, which are values close to noise, and according to a reference document [5], in the case of -96 dB, it states that "at the time of 2 Watt ERP, detect a remote reader/writer 200 kilometers at the worst." This is a bad joke, and it amounts to a Tokyo reader/writer having to worry whether a Yokohama reader/writer is not sending out radio waves. This type of regulation is arrived at because of the conservative premise that only assumes "on average, 0.9 reader/writer units, and even in a crowded hot spot 25 units of the same" per square kilometer. It should be obvious that when we come to use IC tags in distribution centers and large-scale stores, this assumption will be exceeded by far. Also, if you do not install LBT, it appears that radio waves can only be sent out 0.1 percent of the duty cycle, in other words 1/1000 of the period.

In this manner, when we look Europe's new regulation draft from the side of the user, it tends to seem like it will become something that is extremely hard to use. Furthermore, the spurious regulation is loose at 250 nW = -36 dB, which are the numbers the UHF tag side is advocating in Japan. This is probably because there are no important communications, such as cell-phone, in the neighboring bands. However, when people look at this from the U.S., even these numbers seem severe. U.S. UHF band reader/writer makers still aren't talking about products that conform to European regulations. They are giving priority to the U.S. domestic market, and, in regard to Europe, it seems like they have put off things until the future, at a time when the regulations have since come into force.

In the manner of the above, the current situation is that both Japan and Europe cannot but have great doubts as to how far UHF tags standardized in the U.S. will come into practical use. If we think in terms of 10 years later, as a result of the digitalization of broadcasts, a broad adjustment of radio wave resources will take place, and thus there is the possibility that it will come about that we will be able to freely employ fairly broad bands for IC tag use, but for the next several years, it appears likely that great progress cannot be hoped for (Table 7).

Table 7 UHF Band IC Tag Electromagnetic Wave Regulations of Japan, the U.S., and Europe


Japanese Draft

EU New Regulations Draft

FCC Part 15.247, etc.

ETSI EN 302 208
Band (MHz)

902~928 MHz

950~956 MHz

Bandwidth (MHz)



3 (2.0 + 0.4 + 0.6)

4 Watt EIRP (2.44 Watt ERP)

In deliberation

2/0.5/0.1 Watt ERP
Spurious (dBm)  
In deliberation
(-84.8 dBm vs. -36 dBm)

-36 dBm
LBT (Listen before Talk) Sensitivity
-96, -90, -83 dB

Figure 2. RFID shopping site (

Q4. About how much are they charging for IC tags and read-in devices?

Because IC tags have been used in closed environments, we have to make an estimate, as how much we can actually buy them for has not been made very public, but since there is an IC tag shopping site called, let's take a look at the prices there as a reference, even though the products (particularly, 915 MHz) there are not used in Japan (Fig. 2, Table 8).

Table 8 IC Tag-Related Price Examples (from
TI: 13.56 MHz IC Tags
  • Tag for use with CD/DVD
100 pieces $149.99
  • Key ring type tag
1,000 pieces $1,495.00
  • White film label type
100 pieces $149.99
  • While paper label type
100 pieces $149.99
  • Wristwatch type tag
1,000 pieces $1,350.00
Alien Technology: 915 MHz Class 1 IC Tags
  • D Tags (44 x 99 mm)
100 pieces $124.99
  • I Tags (13 x 134 mm)
100 pieces $84.99
  • M Tags (95 x 30 mm)
100 pieces $124.99
  • Squiggle Tags (98 x 13 mm)
100 pieces $74.99
Matrics: 915 MHz Class 0 IC Tags
  • MAT-2x2 Tags (5 cm sq. label)
250 pieces $271.99
  • MAT-LABEL4x4 Tags (10 cm sq. label)
250 pieces $271.99
Other Tags
  • TagPac 915 MHz
6 pieces* $19.99
* Four types of Alien tags and two types of Matrics tags per pack
13.56 MHz Readers
  • FEIG short range handheld reader kit
  • FEIG medium range handheld reader kit
  • Handheld JETT reader (Windows CE PDA)
915 MHz Readers
  • Alien 4 port reader
  • Matrics Stationary reader
13.56 MHz/915 MHz Combined
  • ThingMagic Mercury 3 reader
  • Mercury 3: 13.56 MHz antenna
  • Mercury 3: 915 MHz antenna
$349.99 (linear, circular, both)
  • Alien: 915 MHz antenna
$279.99 (linear circular)
  • Alien: 915 MHz antenna
$319.99 (circular)
  • Matrics: 915 MHz antenna

As for IC tags, TI's 13.56 MHz tag can be read from a maximum of 1 meter, and it is read/write capable. Its memory is two kilobits, and it generally costs a little less than $1.50 per piece. Alien Technology's 915 MHz tag is write once, and is based on Class 1 of the EPC standard. Its memory is 96 bits, and it can be read from a maximum range of four to five meters. In the space of a second, 200 tags can be read, and the price is from 75 cents to $1.20. Matrics' 915 MHz tag is Class 0 of the EPC standard, and it can only be read in from. Its memory is 80 bits, and it has 16-bit cycle redundancy checking (CRC). It is possible to read a maximum of 800 tags in the space of a second from a maximum of three meters, and the price is on the order of $1.08 per piece. With UHF (915 MHz) tags, in comparison to 13.56 MHz, we understand that in place of lowered functions, we can read lots of tags from afar at one time.

As for readers for use with 13.56 MHz, one for short range (10 centimeters or less) use is $500, one for medium range (up to 50 centimeters) use is $750, and a handheld reader loaded with Windows CE is about $1,600. A 915 MHz stationary reader runs from $2,800 to $3,000, which is a good price. A combined 13.56 MHz/915 MHz reader, which is compatible with two frequencies through a software wireless method using a DSP, is $2,800.

As for antennas that attach to readers, one for 915 MHz use runs from $280 to $400. One for medium range use at 13.56 MHz is $520.

How's that? If it's 13.56 MHz tags and a handheld reader, then the prices are those at which even an individual can purchase them, but with 915 MHz tags and readers, the feeling is that these are for business use, such as distribution and inventory management.

Q5. I have heard that EPCglobal's EPC standard is the IC tag world standard.

As for the EPC standard, we frequently notice reports that state it is "the future IC tag world standard," but in fact it is something that began from an independent standard that ignored international standards. The present situation is that we don't know whether it will go well or not, or how on earth things will turn out.

EPCglobal is a continuation of the research results of the Auto-ID Center centered around MIT, being an organization that EAN International and the Uniform Code Council (UCC) created through a merger, which is aiming at a world standard for IC tags used in the distribution field of supply chain management that will replace barcodes. It has yet to become an international standard. As for IC tag international standards that manage things, there already is ISO 18000, which has just become an official standard. Individual frequency-specific standards also have come into existence; for example, there is ISO 18000-6 as one that uses the UHF band.

Electronic Product Code (EPC) is an IC tag standard the Auto-ID Center, which was originally established in October 1999, decided. The Auto-ID Center began its activities after U.S. product code standardization organ UCC and consumer product makers Procter & Gamble and The Gillette Co. submitted the funds to establish it with the objective of eliminating wastefulness by integrating the virtual world of electronic business transactions and actual manufactured products through the use of networks.

Up to then, IC tags were used as closed systems, and inside the IC tag was not only an ID number, but there were also a lot of methods of use in which one directly wrote in data. Each maker used a system based on original standards, and there was no compatibility in the standards across makers. However, standardization moved forward with the 13.56 MHz band because it was used in IC tags; international standardization, such ISO/IEC 14443 and ISO/IEC 15693, advanced; and IC tags using the same technology were developed. With these, both memory capacity in kilobit units is possible, and rewriting is possible.

The Ups and Downs of the Auto-ID Center

The strategy of the Auto-ID Center didn't aim at high functions in IC tags, rather from the beginning it was something that premised the use of the Internet, and if they could be made at the extremely low cost of several cents apiece by recording only an ID number onto the IC tags and keeping functions to a minimum, then it would be possible to attach ID tags to all sorts of manufactured products, and they would be popularized in a single stroke. If things are done so, then all will go nicely from manufacturing through distribution, sales, inventory management, disposal, and on up to recycling. However, a method for manufacturing IC tags at the low cost of several cents apiece is something that doesn't go nicely today. In short, if it's just the IC tag chip, it can be made at low cost as its area on the die is also small, but the fact is that cost won't go down due to the labor of attaching the antenna to it. And, if the cost doesn't go down, they won't be popularized.

The Auto-ID Center after its inauguration at first planned to use a technology called BiStatix from the large electronic device maker Motorola. This is something in which an antenna printed with conductive ink onto paper such as labels is attached to a 3 millimeter square chip. The large paper maker International Paper also supported this, and it intended to popularize this paper with an attached IC tag by calling it "Intelligent Paper." The U.S. Postal Service also planned to attempt to make its postal operations efficient by utilizing BiStatix. However, Motorola ended up withdrawing from BiStatix in the fall of 2001 because restructuring accompanying a slump in business.

What appeared at that point was the venture firm called Alien Technology. This company was established with the objective of manufacturing thin displays at low cost by utilizing a technology called fluidic self-assembly (FSA) invented at the University of California Berkeley in which the semiconductor die is washed in fluid and things are automatically assembled. However, although it was supposed to become a thin active-matrix display manufacturing giant, it hurriedly changed direction, and it ended up working on ultra low-cost IC tag manufacturing using FSA technology. At that point, in 2000, it contacted the Auto-ID Center, and, in what could not be foreseen, it was not taken seriously at all. Next, it contacted large makers such as Procter & Gamble, but, as expected, it was no good. However, the company got Wal-Mart to take a liking to it, and in January 2001 it joined the Auto-ID Center. At the Auto-ID Center also, because the BiStatix technology that they had been counting on had ended up becoming hopeless, they gambled on Alien Technology's technology. In the manner that IC tags went to Alien and Matrics and the readers went to ThingMagic, it appears they threw both the specifications and implementations in one lump to the related venture businesses. However, because they entrusted the fate of the project to venture businesses at the beginning of their establishment, skepticism swirled about. At that point, they made an appeal saying, "Because the number of products the member companies manufacture is huge in quantity, if IC tags attain extremely large volume in the 10 billion piece class, we can supply them at 5 cents." In January 2003, in order to put life into the project, Gillete made the announcement that it would buy a maximum of 500 million IC tags at less than 10 cents apiece from Alien.

From the Auto-ID Center to EPCglobal

However, when May 2003 rolled around, EAN International and UCC announced the commercialization of EPC, in October the Auto-ID Center was shut down, and there was a division into EPCglobal to carry out business and the Auto-ID Lab to advance research. A rumor about this was circulating from the beginning of 2003, and it seemed like it was because of some kind of circumstances on the EAN/UCC side (according to Craig C. Harmon, who will appear later, it seems like they squandered their capital in the electronic business transaction net UCCnet, and thus they wanted a new capital source).

In June, Wal-Mart announced the requirement of EPC-specification IC tags to delivery containers and pallets to its top 100 suppliers. In June 2004, there was an announcement of RFID compatibility by January 2006 to the 200 companies below the top 100 companies. As for the response of the analysts, while there were also favorable ones, there were likewise ones like that of the Gartner Group, which stated that "by this, suppliers will lack the motivation to go with the flow."

In October 2003, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that from January 2005 it would require the attaching of IC tags to container and pallet units at a minimum, and the attaching of IC tags to each separate item of expensive things. For the IC tags, they adopted EPC's, but they seem to have adopted them on the condition that they become an international (ISO) standard.

At that point, international standardization was hurried up, invitations were invited for the next generation standard EPC UHF Generation 2 from the spring through the the summer of 2004, and the results of the competition were gathered together in a thing called the Chicago Protocol. This appears to have become something in which they added improvements to the high function international standard ISO 18000-6 standard of old. This is because it is easy to make a new standard into an international standard if an ISO standard is its base.

EPCglobal has appealed to firms intending to make EPC standard tags and readers into a business that if they paid license fees to EPCglobal, patent fees and so on would not be necessary, and they have made joining obligatory.

However, the major firm Intermec, which inherited IBM's RFID technologies, set forth a policy of levying five percent royalties on tags and 7.5 percent on reader/writers, because EPC standards, UHF Generation 2 also, infringed on its patents. There is also the possibility that other firms that have not joined EPCglobal will also assert their intellectual property rights, and thus fears connected to cost escalations have appeared. If 20 companies claim five percent, that's 100 percent, and the cost ends up becoming double. At that point, the final decisions of October were held back, and work was carried out as to whether the specifications couldn't be changed so as to not infringe on patents. Well then, how far has it been possible for them to escape from intellectual property rights?

Skeptical Viewpoint on EPC

In Japan, there are a lot of people who believe EPC standard tags are without a doubt the winning horse because the product code standardization organs EAN-UCC have have settled on them, Wal-Mart and the DoD have adopted them, and large IT firms have declared their support for them, but in Europe and the U.S. concerned persons maintaining skeptical viewpoints are unexpectedly deeply rooted. Among them, there are even persons saying that EPC standard tags absolutely will not go well. Here, let's first introduce the opinions [8] of QED Systems CEO Craig K. Harmon, who is an IT-related consultant and has consecutively held various IC tag standardization committee member posts in the education business.

  • It's a great mistake if you believe that practialization began on January 1, 2005, when Wal-Mart obligated its top 100 suppliers to adopt EPC standard IC tags
  • For supply chain use, tags with higher functions are needed; just pasting tags to containers and pallets by itself is no good; and in taking into consideration the nature of the contents, it is necessary to accurately determine such things as location and direction
  • EPC is pushing only into retail uses, but, as one would expect, the requirements of the Department of Defense that adopted EPC greatly differ with EPC's, and are ones that conform to the ISO's; I fear that UHF Generation will not go well, and that they'll probably return to ISO 18000-6

The title also is the provocative "The Emperor has No Clothes," which is speaking cynically about the present state of the RFID field today. His conclusion is that doing things in the way that EPCglobal and Wal-Mart are doing things, dashing ahead at their own judgment, is bad. He says today, they are getting away with extravagant advertisements, but in actually putting IC tags into practical use, various elements must be considered, and it isn't that simple.

Certainly, among Wal-Mart's suppliers, some are reluctantly attaching IC tags to containers and pallets because it has been made obligatory, but it seems like there also aren't a few places where they think that this is not very suitable in terms of cost. It still isn't clear whether the trials by Wal-Mart and DoD will smoothly succeed, or whether they will fail. As for EPC, its history with IC tags is short, and it is a newcomer; generally, it seems like there are a lot of skepticism among experts who have worked with IC tags and barcodes in the past. If we suppose a case in which the new standard EPC UHF Generation 2 has returned to ISO 18000-6, then that also leads to the question of what exactly was the EPC course of events.

In addition, there are also the opinions of experts who say that even with the protocol draft of the latest EPC UHF Generation 2, in an environment where several thousand tag readers are working per square kilometer, they will interfere with each other, and thus it is not for an environment of the type where large numbers of readers will always be in use in earnest [9].

Moreover, as for the reliability of foreign IC tags, no matter what, it seems to be singular at present. In particular, because the products of venture businesses do not appear to be reliable, from around the time of the Auto-ID Center, a request was put out to Japanese makers saying they would like them to develop IC tags of high reliability, but at five cents apiece, it appears that there was no place that took them up on it. Recently, in Japan also, a government project to develop UHF band IC tags at five yen began, but domestic makers are reluctant toward low-cost tags, and there were almost no bids. Even today, there are no expectations of reaching five yen in the form with an antenna attached.

With IC tags also, there is a history of hardship. Firms that boasted of prosperity in the early period were weeded out through buyouts and so on; even among large firms, IBM withdrew in 1997 selling off its technology to barcode giant Intermec; in 1999, DRAM giant Micron Technology withdrew; and, in the fall of 2001, Motorola almost touched up against withdrawal. These types of phenomena were present also in the practicalization of barcodes; in the 1970s also when barcodes spectacularly came into practical use, there were a lot of malfunctions, the enthusiastic boom cooled down, and and a large number of participating makers withdrew when there were no quick prospects. That IC tags will spread one of these days is without a doubt; between the road that attempts spreading them impatiently and the sober headed road, which will be the royal road?

Table 9 Electronic Product Code (EPC) Sequence of Events
EPC is a technical specification for utilizing RFIDs in distribution and manufacturing industry supply chain management (SCM)
Oct. 1999 Auto-ID Center inaugurated centering on MIT
May 2003 EAN, UCC announce the commercialization of EPC, to Auto-ID Inc.
Jul. 2003 CASPIAN "invades" the Auto-ID Center and discloses documents
Sept. 2003 EPC Ver. 1.0 announced
Oct. 2003 Auto-ID Center closed; broken up into EPCglobal and Auto-ID Lab
Feb. 2004 EPC Tag Ver 1.1 (draft)
Oct. 2004 EPC UHF Generation 2 scheduled to be settled



[*1] Generally, EIRP equals ERP x 1.64.

[*2] dBm is a unit for expressing the strength of radio waves, where 0 dBm equals 1 milliwatt. -10 dBm equals 10-1, which comes to 1/10, and -20 dBm equals 10-2, which comes to 1/100. According to reports after that, -84.8 dBm is a value compatible with the IMT-2000 system planned to be allocated after 2011. In regard to the PDC system in operation, there has been the assertion of -62.2 dBm = 0.6 x 10-6 milliwatt.

Reference Documents and Articles

[1] Tokushuu 2: Seikai-ni torinokosareru musen IC tagu [Special feature 2: wireless IC tags left behind in the world], Nikkei Komyunikeesyon [Nikkei Communications], August 15, 2004 issue.

[2] Soomushoo-ga UHF-tai musen tagu-no sagyoohan kaisai [Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications holds UHF band wireless tag work group], NTT dokomo-no yookyuu jooken akiraka-ni [clarifying conditions demanded by NTT DoCoMo],

[3] Denshi tagu-to kizon sisutemu-to-no kyooyoo kanoosei-ni kansuru kentoo [A study concerning the possibility of using electronic tags together with existing systems],

[4] Final draft ETSI EN 302 208-1 V1.1.1 (2004-7) European Standard (Telecommunications series) Electromagnetic compatibility and Radio spectrum Matters (ERM),,

[5] Europe Needs New RFID Regulations, H.L. van Eeden, RFID Journal,

[6] Developers pitch RFID system as bar code replacement,

[7] VCs welcome alien flat-panel display technology,

[8] The Emperor has No Clothes,

[9] Why UHF RFID Systems Won't Scale,


Translator's Notes

[TN 1] The wavelength equals the speed of light (299,792,458 meters per second) divided by the frequency. In the case of 13.56 MHz, this is 299,792,458 divided by 13,560,000, which equals approximately 22.1 meters.

[TN 2] This is a direct translation of Joohoo tuushin shingikai, joohoo tuushin gijutsu bunkakai, which is based on information obtained at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications' Web site from the following document:

Also, please note that the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications was previously referred to in English as the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Post and Telecommunications (MPHPT).

The above article on T-Engine appeared on pages 50-56 in Vol. 89 of TRONWARE . It was translated and loaded onto this Web page with the permission of Personal Media Corporation.

Copyright © 2004 Personal Media Corporation

Copyright © 2004 Sakamura Laboratory, University Museum, University of Tokyo