Unified RFID and wireless spreads its Wi-NGs

Wireless data capture and communication technologies are opening up opportunities for the channel. Angelo Lamme, Symbol Technologies, (pictured right) describes the route ahead for unified applications.

The wireless world is changing at an astonishing rate. Technologies are emerging that will have an enormous impact on industries such as retail, manufacturing and healthcare. The imminent arrival of the IEEE 802.11n wireless standard promises transfer speeds of up to 540Mb/s, and WiMAX will offer wireless access at distances of up to 50 kilometers (~30 miles) and speeds of up to 70Mb/s.

The RFID and WLAN markets are already extremely lucrative for resellers, and current projections estimate that the combined market size will grow to 2.9 billion by 20091. This is a great opportunity for resellers and they should look at their strategy in order to take a sizeable proportion of this. Already, companies have realised cost savings and increases in efficiencies by implementing Wi-Fi and RFID in their operations. But as wireless systems change and evolve, can businesses keep up with this new technology?

Today, deploying disparate Wi-Fi and RFID systems implies spending resources on integration solutions, and risking data loss at certain 'junctions'. For example, at a stock inventory level, information about movement of goods collected by RFID readers then needs to be transmitted to the stock control system. Integration between these two systems often has to be handled by a third party solution, leaving many junctions open to the risk of data loss.

Educate the end user

Resellers also need to educate their customers about how emerging technologies will affect their business. For example, new technology often needs to be painstakingly integrated into the existing network. Customers may be confused about new standards and products which may either complement or replace old systems completely, so resellers are in an excellent position to advise on this until unified standards arrive.

By unifying Wi-Fi and RFID, companies will not only be able to speed up their stock checking and inventory processes, but they will be able to ensure that there is no possibility of data loss at the junctions of different technologies (such as between the scanning of an RFID tag and the subsequent transmission of data via a wireless LAN). Businesses can also improve system performance, operational efficiencies and security, help ensure data delivery, and save money on translating between Wi-Fi and RFID by using this unified approach. Naturally, these systems will talk to each other as they will be compatible and interconnected. This is the basis for RF switching.

Uniting wireless technologies

An RF switch will unite wireless technologies in the enterprise. Large and small businesses will experience greater ease of deployment, as well as greater manageability of the unified systems. It will also enable the possibility of greater wireless coverage in larger environments based on new technologies and standards such as WiMAX. By unifying systems, resellers will be able to provide a comprehensive solution for customers, rather than trying to unify distinct, but logically connected systems with products from separate vendors.

To some extent, next-generation wireless (Wi-NG) is simply a natural progression of existing technology, and a move to interconnect systems using common protocols. It will make use of wireless switching to manage this data and access ports which can create wireless mesh networks. Currently, all of these solutions and technologies are very new, but in the future, they will provide enhanced control and depth. For example, companies will be able to see a graphical representation of wireless coverage strength within networks in order to optimise access point/access port placement and more precisely define the point where mobile devices switch from using one wireless technology (e.g. WLAN) to another.

Prepare for convergence

Improved fixed/mobile convergence (FMC) will also occur. Many companies are adopting voice over IP (VoIP) because it enables them to rationalise their infrastructure and save money on voice calls. In a large warehouse or other fast-moving environment, it is not always practical to have fixed or limited range cordless VoIP phones in place. Routing voice calls over a wireless LAN enables companies to cash in on the savings of VoIP and to take calls anywhere within their WLAN. These technologies are also becoming smarterphones will adapt so that they can always make conventional calls using traditional mobile networks, but when they detect a WLAN, the telephone will route the call over the wireless network instead. Resellers should therefore be prepared for convergence and start the education process now or risk being left behind.

As the systems are unified, data will move more swiftly, and interconnected devices will allow companies to know exactly what devices are in the area and where they are located. Additionally, in the not so distant future, RF switching will extend the convergence of Wi-Fi and RFID to include WiMAX, ZigBee, meshed and other wireless technologies. An RF switch brings a common point of management for all types of RF being deployed in an enterprise.

Unifying makes sense

The benefits of such developments are clear for both resellers and customers. Resellers will be able to offer a broader and more complete solution for their customers. In turn, customers will gain cost savings from unifying their networks, as well as improved efficiency, and easier and more powerful control over the network. Interconnecting systems allows companies to know exactly what they have and where it is, in real-time and with no delay at the junctions between systems.

Of course, this may all seem like a somewhat rose-tinted view, and undoubtedly there will be teething problems as the new systems are put into place and tested. However, the vision of unifying wireless networks is within reach and will be in place within a few years. The improvements in efficiency will not simply come because the wireless devices can move data faster. The interlinking of the systems will lead to better data transmission, and as every company knows, removing unnecessary slow points in any supply chain, be it physical goods or data, has a beneficial effect on the entire network. Resellers need to understand exactly what benefits this new system will offer, and how best they can pass these benefits onto their customers, because as we have seen, time and technology stands still for no man.


1 ABI Research: RFID Annual Market Overview and Synergy Research Group: Q4 2005 Wireless LAN Equipment Forecasts.


Angelo Lamme is senior manager wireless product marketing for EMEA, Symbol Technologies. He is responsible for all wireless product marketing and business development in EMEA for Symbol Technologies.

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