The European Commission announced on 11 October 2018 the harmonisation of the radio spectrum in support of the Internet of Things and the Implementation of Decision (EU) 2018/1538.
The information did lead to some uncertainty and customers have been asking how this change may impact their deployments or disrupt their investment decisions.
In the RFID industry, this move has been anticipated and industry associations and customers using RFID in the retail as well as automotive space have been asking for these frequencies to be allocated. The allocation is in addition to the existing frequencies 865.6-867.6 MHz used in the EU with ETSI, so this won’t require any of the existing deployments to change.
GS1 published a document summarising the regulatory status for using RFID in the EPC Gen2 (860 to 960 MHz) band. This document provides a great summary of the current regulations for each country. Unfortunately, at this stage, only a few EU countries have implemented the upper band of ETSI EN 302 208 (915-921 MHz), most notable is the absence of France, Spain, Italy and Germany.
Benefits of the new spectrum
Larger RFID tags are tuned with a relatively broad bandwidth and perform well across the old ETSI as well as the FCC (902 -928 MHz) range used in the United States. Advancements in technology such as Impinj AutoTune and NXP Self Adjust (see 9.6.3) further support good tag performance across the frequency band.
Smaller tags are harder to tune across the whole frequency spectrum. Customers had to use different tags for different regions especially for cosmetics and other accessories that require small tags to be applied to the product. This did add to the complexity of the supply chain for companies operating RFID systems. Assuming further adoption of the new radio spectrum across the EU, customers will be able to reduce the number of different tags required for their deployment which will reduce complexity and cost.
The biggest advantage of the new spectrum is the increase in power from 2W ERP to 4W ERP. This will benefit systems using fixed readers such as tunnels and dock doors. The increase in power delivers a welcome performance boost that will improve the read reliability and performance of fixed infrastructure systems.
Considerable time and effort were invested over years to move this decision forward. After all technical specifications are now available, technology vendors will require some time to update ETSI compliant radios in their reader systems and apply for certification where required.
It will take time for reader and module manufacturers to release products that are compliant with the new radio spectrum; This is, however, something customers should consider for new investment decisions.
Considerations for new investments
Customers looking to invest in RFID hardware at this stage should challenge their vendors on compatibility with the new ETSI EN 302 208. Currently, there is a limited number of countries that have adopted the new radio spectrum. The new spectrum has been discussed for many years and vendors have been aware of this development.
Manufacturers scramble to make their products compatible and receive required certifications for their radios. Any investments in reading points that would benefit from the increased power, especially tunnel and dock door readers should be upgradable by receiving updated firmware to benefit from the increased power of 4W ERP. Compatibility is important as these devices are usually more expensive than mobile readers and have a longer life expectancy.
Mobile devices operating with 4W would experience significantly shorter battery life and mobile devices today often only operate at 1W or below. Devices used to read small tags, especially in stores and departments handling cosmetics and accessories would benefit from the additional frequency range.
This is a great development for our customers. This additional radio spectrum will improve the performance of fixed infrastructure deployments and reduce the complexity tagging smaller items for global operations. Existing technology has proven to be reliable and deliver a positive ROI; in fact, not using the technology to digitalise operations and optimise the supply chain has become a competitive disadvantage. Holding off investments would be wrong; however, customers should challenge their hardware vendors on compatibility and the upgrade path before investing in new reader devices.