Wyatt Kash | Editor's Desk: Reaping RFID's rewards

Wyatt Kash

The battle over competing types of radio frequency identification for use in government-issued smart cards illustrates once again why the yin of market forces doesn't always nest easily in the yang of government requirements.

The conflict, as GCN reported last week, pits proponents of high-frequency (HF) chips against those preferring ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) chips. UHF chips work faster, over longer distances, but are relatively expensive. That hasn't stopped Wal-Mart and the Defense Department from using them in their supply chain systems.

HF chips work within more limited reading ranges and at slower speeds, but are less expensive and more reliable in certain environments. And in the case of the State Department, which is using HF in its new e-passports, the infrastructure for them is largely in place.

At the heart of the debate, dragging out between agencies and within Congress, are issues of security and privacy. But the stakes in resolving the debate are rising.

One-fourth of government IT managers in a GCN reader poll last month said their agencies currently use RFID technologies. Another 24 percent said their agencies are planning to use RFID in the next 12 to 36 months. (Details are at GCN.com, GCN.com/674.)

Right now, existing RFID users are applying RFID most often on personnel ID and access control. So security issues are no small concern. But among those planning to adopt RFID, it's clear that agencies are also looking to RFID to help manage assets, inventory, logistics and even documents.

The study also makes clear that the cost of tags'and the lack of mature standards'are less of an impediment to adoption than the larger cost of the infrastructure to manage and secure RFID data. That recognition is a healthy sign.

It's hard to tell where the debate over frequency standards will end. Most likely, both technologies will find their place in government. But the sooner the debate gets resolved, the sooner agencies can begin reaping the benefits RFID continues to promise.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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