Active RFID: Innovation and Very Rapid Growth

by Dr. Peter Harrop

Radio frequency identification, where there is a power source in the tag, is called active RFID. It was something of a backwater, with frequent million dollar sales only being achieved with tags that act as car clicker immobilizers and with $30 tags and their sophisticated systems for tracking key military vehicles and assets. No longer. Several applications have been above $100 million and it is currently responsible for over 20% of all spend on RFID. New IDTechEx research has determined that the value of sales of active systems including the tags will now grow very rapidly from $0.55 billion in 2006 to $6.78 billion 2016. We have constructed forecasts usefully segmented by frequency, application and many other parameters.

Technologies Facilitating Growth
The three primary technologies creating this growth will be Real Time Location Systems (RTLS), disposable RFID sensor systems, including ones in the form of Smart Active Labels (SAL), and sophisticated multifunctional devices. These will serve the burgeoning market demand for tracking, locating and monitoring people and things, driven by security, safety, cost and other factors. Active RFID will create competitive advantage in consumer goods, combat the new terrorism, other crime and threatened epidemics of disease and serve consumers and governments demanding better service, more information, food traceability and condition monitoring. The safety of constructions and risk of natural disasters will be monitored by Ubiquitous Sensor Networks (USN), usually as a form of active RFID, and they will assist and monitor the increasing numbers of elderly and disabled.

These needs have been building for some time, but two new facilitators combine to make active RFID a much more practicable solution. They are:

We can now see three phases in the evolution of active RFID in Figure 1.

Shown below in Figure 2 are systems, devices and interfaces that are now - or soon will be - used by active RFID, or combined with it, in small portable devices.

Source: IDTechEx.

Other combinations and alternatives are also now becoming available, including Ultra Wide Band (UWB) active RFID and Near Field Electromagnetic Ranging (NFER).

Frequencies Are Varied
Frequencies in the range 315 to 433 MHz and 2.45 GHz are the most popular for active RFID at present. 2.45 GHz will be increasingly important because of its suitability for RTLS and because of the increased leveraging of ZigBee, WiFi and Bluetooth technology in active RFID. However, 13.56 MHz is the frequency for Near Field Communication NFC and semi-passive RFID sensor devices.

Dramatic Growth
IDTechEx forecast that the global RFID active tag market (including semi-active and semi-passive) will be very different from the past. Sales will now rise rapidly, driven by the many technical advances and the further doubling and trebling of the number of companies and users active in the field. In the next decade, most of the active RFID market will be in the automotive, transportation, logistics, healthcare and military sectors. Systems will be responsible for a much larger part of the whole spend than tags, in continuing contrast to the situation with passive tags.

In 2016, the relative importance of the sectors by value in billions of dollars will be as shown in Figure 3, the total market being $6.78 billion.

Source: IDTechEx.

MilitaryAssets, consumables, conveyances, vehiclesSmart seals, RTLS, RFID with sensing
Smart and Secure Tradelanes global initiativeIntermodal containers, etc.Smart seals and RTLS
Other LogisticsItems, assets, conveyances, vehiclesActive, active with sensing, RTLS, SAL
Passenger transport/automotiveVehicle, premises and computer access, vehicles, ticketing, assetsKey fobs, etc., active with sensing, RTLS, SAL
Prison (correctional facility) and parole servicePeopleSmart wrist and ankle bands
Consumer goods and retailItems, assets, conveyances, vehiclesSAL, e.g. self-adjusting use by date, in-transit condition monitor
Air industry
Postal and CourierAssets, consumables, conveyances, vehiclesSmart seals, RTLS, RFID with sensing
HealthcarePeople, assets, conveyances, vehiclesActive, active with sensing, RTLS, SAL
Secure access/other security and safetyVariousVarious
Animals, farming, research, libraries, archiving, leisure, manufacturing, financial and otherAnimals, people and thingsCondition monitoring tags, asset tags, RTLS, etc.
Source: IDTechEx.

With all this potential it is little wonder that the number of users and suppliers of active RFID has doubled in the last year. Many of these companies have not been associated with RFID in the past. The following gives some examples, with the location and tracking of conveyances, packages and assets receiving the most attention.

SectorLocationExamples of ApplicationExamples of Suppliers
1. Containers, packages and assetsIntermodal transport containersInternational freight by land and sea; Tracking or tamper alerting seals; Precise location.Savi Technology; WhereNet; Universal Guardian; Identec Solutions
Air Unit Load devices; ULDsAir freightSavi Technology; Identec Solutions
Other containers, packages and assetsTracking, tracing, condition monitoringAirbee, Cambridge Consultants, Power ID (Power Paper), Infratab, Microlise, Ubisense, Axcess, Savi Technology, Maxim Dallas Semiconductor, Parco Wireless, KSW Microtec, Innovision, Alien Technology, Lintec, DNP, Toppan Printing, Miyake, LITI, Yoshikawa, DatatagID (Mitsui), Nedap, Comtec Telecommunications Corp, Active RFID Systems (Winsong Productions), LG, Samsung, Assa Abloy, SandLinks, Atlantic, Ekahau, PanGo Networks, Motorola, Wherify, Pinpointers, AWAREA, Tagtec, Cirronet, Mitsubishi, Siemens, Telegesis, Escort Memory Systems, Lyngsoe, Avery Dennison, Texas Instruments, Symbol Technologies, RSI ID, MaxID/Sygade, Sirit, Identec Solutions, Wavetrend, Intel, Sandia National Laboratories, Sealed Air Corporation, Bio-RFID Solutions, Graphic Solutions, ActiveWave, 24-7 Safety Systems, Syscan, Sensitech, A3 Technologies, Tagcorp, Pepperl + Fuchs, Avante, AWID, Trenstar, SAIC, Parsons Brinkerhoff, EM Micro, Shaw Industries, Fiatech, Idensys, eXI Wireless (now Verichip), Scan Pak, Cegelec AEG, ICE Automation, WhereNet, HealthCare Pilot, Microsoft
2.TelecommunicationsRFID enabled cellphonesPurchases, transport ticketingNokia/Innovision, Sony Ericsson, NTT DoCoMo, Samsung, LG, Motorola, Sanyo, Connexion2
3. VehiclesCars and trucksNon stop road tolling and trackingTransCore, Sirit, Avonwood, Hills Numberplates, Mark IV Industries, Denso Corporation, Pinpointers, VehicletrackingLtd, Tracker
Airport Ground Support Equipment; GSETracking, statusTransCore, IBM/ SITA
Vehicles and their trailers and containers used in manufacture, warehousing and logisticsTracking, statusWhereNet, Avonwood, Q Track Corporation, SandLinks, Power ID
BicyclesAutostore, antitheftWavetrend, Bluelon
4. PeoplePrisoners, parole, hospitals, care homes, vulnerable invalids, visitors to leisure facilities, theme parks, etc.Tracking, error prevention, safety, security including secure access, purchasesXmark (Verichip), AlancoTechnologies, Radianse, ELPAS, SafeTzone, RFCode, Parco Wireless, Ubisense, Connexion2, Bluelon, SandLinks, Wherify, Pinpointers, AWAREA, Axcess, Tunstall Telecom, HealthCare Pilot
5. Remote locking of cars; "Car clickers"Key fobsConvenience, securityTexas Instruments, Philips
6. Ubiquitous Sensor NetworksChips or labelsDisaster alerts and monitoring, military eavesdropping, traffic management, etc.LG, Samsung, Intel, DNP, Telegesis
Source: IDTechEx.

About the Author
Dr. Peter Harrop is Chairman of IDTechEx.

Copyright 2006. IDTechEx. All rights reserved. Used by permission.