With three quarters of 2013 already behind us, the VDC AutoID team thought it would be interesting to revisit the 2013 predictions we made at the start of the year. In this blog post we examine our RFID &RTLS predictions and offer an update with just three months left.
Vendors – especially RTLS solution providers – will develop the “healthcare stare” – The use of RFID and RTLS is on the rise in healthcare, most notably in the US thanks to the VA’s announced $540M+ contract to track equipment and supplies at 21 of its Veteran Integrated Service Networks (VISNs)…This spark to the market (and sizeable contract) drew a lot of attention in 2012 and we expect the RFID and RTLS frenzy to continue in healthcare in 2013. However, we caution vendors (especially RTLS providers) to not focus solely on healthcare and to seek opportunities and market development in other vertical markets where the competitive field may be less crowded.
Update: This prediction has come true in that healthcare has been the star vertical for AutoID in 2013, but those with a healthcare-centric focus are actively seeking opportunities in other verticals. Successful, high-profile applications for RFID and RTLS in healthcare include asset management, sample tracking, temperature control in sample fridges and hygiene control. While there is strong growth to be realized in healthcare, the sector is challenge with long sales cycles and tight IT budgets. Over the last nine months I have fielded several inquiries about how to target and penetrate this emerging vertical – from both non-RFID/RTLS solution providers and larger consultancies looking for expansion opportunities. Perhaps more interesting is that I have also had a fair number of exchanges with healthcare-centric RFID and RTLS solution providers seeking market opportunities where their products and services may be leveraged outside of healthcare (i.e., industrial, retail enterprises).
Passive UHF EPC item-level tagging (ILT) in the apparel sector will pick up the pace after a somewhat slow 2012 – This past year was a mild disappointment in terms of retailer deployment of RFID for ILT of apparel. For example, no major reader or printer/encoder orders were delivered, several large retailers remain behind originally announced plans (e.g., Wal-Mart, JC Penney) and some newer programs were pushed to or will start in 2013. So what to expect in the year ahead? Even more American Apparel stores will go live with RFID (a bright spot for 2012 as well), Wal-Mart will reassess its RFID plans but remain committed, Macy’s will make its anticipated move, JC Penney has bigger worries than RFID, international retailer Zara will play a key role in increasing tag volumes and RFID EAS will become a more critical part of the ILT in apparel conversation.
Update: Retail continues to take strides in advancing item level tagging on a global scale. Numerous companies such as Mersmann and Borsheims are using RFID for solutions against theft of high-priced goods. Kohl’s, on the other hand, is implementing a full item level tagging solution that includes non-apparel items. The successes of many pilot programs have proven the value of RFID in retail and new retailers are joining the fray as a result. The number of RFID-enabled stores and annual tag volumes among existing users are rapidly expanding. RFID EAS solutions are under broader investigation this year as tagging techniques and the cost of tagging comes down.
Embedded RFID keeps the forward momentum – At the end of 2011 we noted the rise of “RFID inside,” or embedded RFID, as a key trend to watch for in 2012. We are keeping it on the list in 2013 after seeing a great deal of progress in 2012. With price points declining and form factors shrinking, we expect to see solutions and applications such as these expand and new innovations to be introduced in 2013.
Update: As the capability and power of RFID expands, RFID tags are producible thinner than paper, so does the ability to embed. Uses have sprung up for video games, clothing personalization, and even fiber composites. In addition, reader chipset shipments to support embedded RFID applications have grown sharply over the last two years, with 2013 volumes for embedded chipsets likely to outpace those for dedicated, finished readers. Reader module vendors such as ThingMagic continue to innovate and develop new solutions such as RFID-enabling consumer devices such as tablets. Embedded RFID seems to be the future of RFID usage.
Honeywell Scanning & Mobility will get strategic on RFID – and quickly – after announcing its first RFID product and the acquisition of Intermec in 2012 – After some exploration of RFID while acquiring several barcode scanner and mobile computing companies over the last few years, Honeywell made some eye-catching RFID moves in 2012. They made a subtle move in introducing an RFID reader and then made a major move in announcing the acquisition of Intermec (a major RFID IP holder and RFID equipment manufacturer). We predict Honeywell will aggressively develop its RFID strategy in 2013, becoming a strong competitor in select verticals and applications that play to the combined strengths of Honeywell and Intermec. What’s next for Honeywell – RTLS in 2013 or 2014?Update: Although the EU had approved the acquisition in 2012, the progress had been slow moving through much of 2013 due to challenges by the FTC. In mid-September the acquisition was approved after a decision by the FTC around 2D image engine competition. With the elongated inquiry period, Honeywell’s RFID strategy remains to be seen and we may gain some insight before the year ends. VDC will keep a close eye on the process of integrating Intermec, especially Intermec’s RFID business (and IP portfolio). It may be far too soon to look ahead, but if Honeywell’s vision is to become the true, sole total AutoID solutions provider, then they would need to think about adding RTLS to the mix in my opinion. I am sure, however, that Honeywell is much more focused on making Intermec part of their operations and determining their strategies for new-to-them solutions like thermal barcode printing before they would consider pursuing another new technology such as RTLS.