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UK telecom regulator clears RFID tagging

Decision may save UK businesses up to £200m

The UK telecom regulator Ofcom, has given the go-ahead for RFID (radio frequency identification) tagging.

The watchdog has allocated the 865MHz to 868MHz range for RFID tags to be used in asset tracking and stock control. No licence will be required, under the decision, which is published on the Ofcom site.

Ofcom's decision follows consultation over the summer, and is in line with regulators elsewhere in the world that have already allocated the 865MHz to 868MHz range for RFID use. ETSI approved the band for RFID one year ago, in decision ETSI 302-208 (as reported in RFID Journal).

Since then, ETSI 302-208 readers have been available under individual licences, and are already in use in Tesco warehouses, among other places. The Ofcom ruling means that these individual licences are no longer needed, and should make RFID simpler to adopt.

Before the ETSI 302-208 ruling, European RFID devices were limited to a smaller range between 869.4MHz and 869.65MHz, with only one channel to use. The new spectrum increases this to 15 channels, so users will be able to operate more readers in close proximity to each other.

European RFID systems are still more restricted than those in the US, however. Their two-watt power limit is smaller than the US, giving readers here a shorter range. They also have a smaller data rate, as RFID in Europe has 3MHz sliced into channels, while US readers have 26MHz to play with and can use spread-spectrum technology.

European vendors expect to get higher data rates eventually, through advanced radio techniques -- for now, though, RFID tags are usually expected to carry small amounts of data anyway.

Ofcom reckons that unfettered use of RFID tracking will save UK businesses £100m to £200m over 10 years, through better inventory management compared with the less reliable alternative, barcodes. Privacy advocates are still worried by the implications of tracking chips embedded in products, but RFID's progress seems inevitable.

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