Skeletons in the RFID cupboard? Alien IPO shines an unwelcome light

by Guy J Kewney | posted on 21 April 2006

Alien Technology has announced its initial public offering of shares, bringing radio frequency ID chips into public focus. It's "a good thing" says Gartner - as long as RFID can stand the heat. But can it?

The Gartner analysis, published yesterday, "Even if the IPO were to go poorly, the hype generated by this IPO may signal other IPOs in the market, as the financial world has considerable interest in RFID." That's the good news.

"On the other hand, Alien IPO could bring an unwelcome level of scrutiny to RFID projects that are still developing."

Yes, there are skeletons in the RFID cupboard, as any user of London's "Oyster" card system will be aware.

In a world where scaremongers are excitedly warning that your RFID card can be snooped from dozens of metres away, or even hundreds, the day to day experience of commuters is that even if you put the card right down on the reader, it can still fail to register properly.

Newswireless has been interviewing commuters. One of them told us: "I can't top up my Oyster with cash. There's a five pound fine on the card, and it says that I must go to a window and discuss it with staff at the ticket office. In the rush hour, that would add 15 minutes to my commute, so I keep putting it off."

Another commuter whose card let them out of the gate, was disconcerted to get the "Seek Assistance" notification. However, after queueing at the ticket window, this traveller was told "There's nothing wrong with the card."

Standing by an exit at an uncontrolled station (open gates, no barriers) it's clear that the number of cards reporting faults is uncomfortably high. The check-out beeps once for a successful registration, but twice for a fault.

The number of double-beeps is now apparently around 5% of tickets. The errors are not critical in most cases, but it's clear that neither staff nor passengers are adequately educated in how to deal with the problems.

A ticket inspector told NewsWireless: "We get a lot of these Error 94 flags, and when we check them, there's no error. We think it's just a question of making sure the card is properly touched down into the reader, or making sure there isn't something shielding the card, like another ticket in the card carrier, that sort of thing."

Gartner analysis here

Problems and possible RFID solutions: <1/> Tags: , ,

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