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Industry standards improve interoperability for RFID

Industry standards improve interoperability for RFID
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is being used in verticals ranging from security to retail to transportation.
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is being used in verticals ranging from security to retail to transportation. The use of RFID in the security industry is widespread, particularly for access control. “In access control applications, very often cards and key fobs are used, which usually come in the form of a variety of smart card technologies (e.g., 13.56 MHz — MIFARE DESfire, Legic, HID iClass) or proximity card technologies (e.g., approximately 120 kHz — Nedap Nexs, EM, HID Prox),” said Maarten Mijwaart, GM of Nedap Identification Systems. “Proximity card technologies usually support longer read ranges (with bigger antennas) but smart card technologies seem more popular nowadays because of enhanced security features and application support.”

Currently, the 125 kHz proximity card and Wiegand standards constitute the majority of the card-based keyless access, according to Scott Lindley, President of Farpointe Data. “There are three main reasons why proximity cards and readers are still today’s most widely used access control technology. First of all, there is no contact between cards and the reader. This eliminates the wear-and-tear factor. Secondly, proximity readers can be made very durable or even hidden into the wall to make them relatively vandal-resistant. Some are even bullet resistant. And, thirdly, for almost 20 years, they have provided the most cost-efficient front-end for an access control system.”

Despite the popularity of proximity cards, Lindley believes that even though proximity cards became the predominant credential technology over the last decades, contactless smart cards will augment proximity over the next three to five years.

Industry standards improve interoperability
There are many industry standards governing the use of RFID in different applications, as well as for different types of RFID itself. “Standards are created by various organizations to facilitate interoperability among components of the system designed and manufactured by many different organizations. There are also standards that guide the implementation and use of RFID in various verticals and applications,” said Eva Zeisel, Director of Marketing and Online Sales at RFID4U.

The ISO/IEC 18000 is an international standard defining RFID for item identification and management that is divided into seven parts covering a range of diverse RFID technologies, each of which use a unique frequency range. According to the ISO, ISO/IEC 18000 was developed in order to provide parameter definitions for communications protocols within a common framework for internationally useable frequencies for RFID. Where possible, the standard determines the use of the same protocols for all frequencies such that the problems of migrating from one to another are diminished; to minimize software and implementation costs; and to enable system management and control and information exchange to be common as far as is possible.

There are also standards governing specific RFID frequencies. For high-frequency technology (HF), there are standards such as ISO 14443-A and ISO 15693, as well as many other standards for near-field communication (NFC) issued by the NFC Forum. For example, ISO 14443-A is an international standard established to define proximity cards used for identification and the transmission protocols for communicating with it. The standard consists of four parts, dealing with smart cards communicating at 13.56 Mhz. “Since many vendors have adopted (portions of ) this four-part standard, you can find readers that support basic reading of Legic cards, HID iClass cards and MIFARE cards,” said Mijwaart.

Then there is the EPC Gen2 standard, short for EPCglobal UHF Class 1 Generation 2, which is a widely accepted standard for ultra-high frequency (UHF).

This technology is now referred to as RAIN RFID and supports long read ranges and normal, battery-less credit card-sized cards. “The latest RAIN RFID standard supports advanced tag encryption and authentication schemes, which makes these tags approach the security level of modern smart cards,” Mijwaart explained. Due to its wide acceptance, many advise using Gen2-compliant products if you’re going to use UHF.

Farpointe’s Lindley explained: “For example, enabling broader compatibility, many RFID readers and credentials for electronic access control first emulated magnetic stripe data standards developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defining many of the card’s attributes, including size and data formats. Today, many access control panel providers comply with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) standard IEEE 802.3 which defines the backbone of Ethernet technologies. New standards, such as the Open Supervised Device Protocol (OSDP) specification which offers the promise of widespread functional integration of disparate card readers, electronic access control panels and other security management systems, will allow for new features and even greater interoperability.”

RFID to come
The number of applications for RFID continues to grow, and with the number of NFC-connected devices growing, it will be interesting to see how these devices will be used in addition to or alongside RFID cards and tags. However, high costs for manufacturing and implementing RFID stands in the way of major growth. Furthermore, despite a number of standards, currently the frequencies used for UHF RFID in the U.S.A. are incompatible with those in Europe or Japan. If in the coming years, these issues can be remedied, the possibilities for RFID could be even more than previously thought.

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