EPCglobal ratifies first RFID software standard
The new software standard, called Application Level Events or ALE, is expected to significantly simplify business applications for RFID systems by creating a common ground of interoperability for different vendors' enterprise software worldwide. Essentially, the standard gives software vendors a unified approach to creating software products that collect, manage and route data that is generated in the supply chain by RFID hardware, such as tags and readers. The significance of ALE to the RFID industry "is almost like when the electrical sockets became standardized," said Sam Liu, director of RFID product management at Sun Microsystems. "For businesses who are interested in whether they can solve their problems ... now there's a technology standard out there to help them to do that in the supply chain," Mr Liu said. "In the past it was extremely complicated." Sun, along with other RFID software vendors, particularly larger ones, is already selling RFID software that complies with the new standard. The most recent versions of Sun's RFID middleware, for example, are based on the draft ALE standard and the software needs no tweaks to comply with the ratified ALE, according to Liu. (The first version of the Sun middleware, released in July 2004, however, does not comply with ALE.) And several companies already have tested their RFID software for interoperability under the standard, including Acsis, ConnecTerra, GlobeRanger, IBM, Progress Software and Reva Systems. But much RFID software on the market today, however, will need to be re-engineered to comply. "The smaller ones, if they want to play in the EPCglobal world, they will have to adopt it," Mr Liu said. EPCglobal plans to submit ALE to the International Standards Organization for ratification. (EPCglobal and the ISO are the two key bodies charged with RFID standards.) Just how long it will take for software vendors to comply with the new ALE standard and for it to be ratified by the ISO is difficult to gauge. "Software standards seem to take longer than hardware standards because there seems to be more areas of interpretation in software than there is in hardware," said Jack Grasso, a spokesperson for Brussels, Belgium-based EPCglobal. Global RFID hardware standards have a significant head start on software. The EPCglobal standard for RFID tags and readers, called UHF Generation 2, was first ratified by EPCglobal last December and have already been submitted to the ISO, which is expected to give it the green light early next year - making it the first global RFID standard to have the ISO's blessing. It has taken roughly nine months from when the Gen 2 hardware standard was ratified (by EPCglobal) until products on the market were certified as compliant. However, Gen 2 products have been steadily making it to market all this year. And EPCglobal just kicked off its Gen 2 certification program recently. Hardware products go through testing under the program for a few weeks before certification. Hardware standards came first because EPCglobal took a "from-the-ground-up" approach, Mr Grasso said.