Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What's In Store for RFID?

It's been a tough month for RFID advocates. Hot on the heels of the revelation at the RSA show that
RFID chips can be eavesdropped with a modified cell-phone... the FDA sent a message to the industry that it was disappointed with the slow progress of RFID trials. Many industry observers have been saying that the FDA is unrealistic about the cost and complexity imposed by RFID. Pfizer's Tom McPhillips, vice president, U.S. trade group was at the FDA meeting. He said, “It would be possible to implement RFID tagging for higher risk products in three to five years. It would take several years beyond that before all drugs could get tags.” That makes 6-9 years at least from now before unit level tagging of pharmaceuticals is widespread. The problems facing RFID are not insurmountable - but they are fearsome, and include:
  • cost of tags, readers, infrastructure and systems integration
  • consumer privacy fears and backlash
  • lack of security in low cost chips
  • lack of standards (tags, China)
  • reliability and physical robustness
The latest threat is that the RFID tag could potentially carry a virus, that could infect a database. Although this scenario is unlikely, it's one more battle the RFID boosters have to fight.

Scott Gottlieb MD,
Deputy Commissioner for Medical and Scientific Affairs, in a recent speech to the PDA, emphasized his enthusiasm about RFID, but reiterated that there are other technologies, such as 2D barcodes, that can be used for product authentication. Indeed, manufacturers may gain much of the benefit, and a lot of the learning, about unit-level coding and authentication from solutions that don't suffer from some of the technical challenges facing RFID. At the very least, these technologies will provide the bridge for the next 6-10 years until RFID is ready and the kinks have been ironed out.