The booming business of Active RFID and RTLS

By Dr Peter Harrop, chairman, IDTechEx
Friday, 01 August, 2008

The RFID business value is expected to grow by five times in the next 10 years. The Active RFID business is growing by about 10 times, driven by the $475 million military order for Savi Technology and innovations such as the first 100,000 RFID labels from Power ID that have greatly enhanced range over alternatives.

Within Active RFID, the market for real time locating systems (RTLS) is projected to grow even faster — from $145 million today to $2.7 billion by 2018. And, although several analysts have come up with broadly similar figures to these projected by IDTechEx, they could, of course, all be wrong.

However, the trend in the number of suppliers and trials of active RFID, the trend in the size of the largest orders and other leading indicators show that the business is already on the move in a big way.

Reflecting the fact that such a huge new market will serve many very different user needs, the choice of technologies is also becoming richer and more varied by the day.

We now have RTLS that are ‘plug and play’ and even RTLS that are battery operated, no plugging in being needed — just ‘play’.

Indeed, some new systems auto-calibrate — no need to map where everything is and no need to worry if readers are moved. Some RTLS locate to a few centimetres' accuracy over fairly short range while other RTLS works at 300 m away.

There are now four main frequency bands to choose from in the array of RTLS offerings and for good reason, because the needs are so disparate.

No one knows yet how to land the biggest prize of all, which will be major supply chains where the location of everything is known all the time.

The market at present is split into market leader WhereNet's 2.45 GHz ISO standard time difference of arrivals (TDOA) system and the various ultra wide band offerings using TDOA and alternatives all serving the top of the market where superlative availability and accuracy are paramount.

Usually at lower cost are systems working with existing WiFi infrastructure and other technologies that serve markets where cost of ownership and easy installation are more important and performance compromises are acceptable.

In 2008, about $40 million will go to WhereNet, $40–45 million to UWB RTLS options, $40–45 million to WiFi RTLS and about $20 million to other RTLS technologies.

In years to come, self-calibrating systems using battery-operated readers will locate by room as requested by certain hospitals and there are other benefits available that are sought by significant segments of the rapidly emerging market.

Reflecting all this, IDTechEx expanded the name of the world's only major annual conference on Active RFID to 'Active RFID and RTLS Summit' last year, but now there is another trend coming into view.

Active RFID with sensing is poised to involve huge numbers of tags that communicate with each other in self healing mesh networks, the jargon for this being ubiquitous sensor networks (USN).

Sometimes, these will merge with RTLS capabilities, so there are huge implications here for those such as TRAAK Systems that can deal with threatened data overload and others that can progress beyond ZigBee, particularly in reducing power consumption to make these systems practicable.

Who can increase range and supply affordable labels that do the job? Certainly systems with billions of tags for both RTLS and USN are in prospect. This is exercising the minds of many in the world's leading software, electronics and systems companies and the marketing planners are already looking towards the huge orders in prospect.


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