September 15, 2004

Startup Rolls Out RFID Transition Tool

By Evan Schuman, eWEEK

As the industry slowly moves ahead with RFID integration, one of the critical issues has been the need for retailers to seamlessly work with both bar-code and RFID readers. It's difficult enough for 20-year-old point-of-sale devices to handle RFID, let alone handle RFID while still working with bar-code devices.

A Canadian technology startup called Intelletto Technologies has introduced a device, the RFID Multiport Companion, that it says is designed to sidestep that problem, essentially by daisy-chaining bar-code and RFID readers through a single POS RS232 port.

The typical problem today, says Intelletto CEO Hassanali Namazi, is with a retail chain that is doing limited testing and deployment of RFID readers. When a cashier scans a product with the RFID reader and it fails—a not unheard of situation—the cashier stops and rescans the item with a bar-code scanner. By allowing both devices to simultaneously be connected with the POS, the delay could be significantly reduced, Namazi said.

"This is enabling retailers to do pilot studies without a huge cost. This allows them to cut down the changes they have to do with their software," Namazi said. "They don't have to move [the scanners] around," which could deliver a 2- to 5-second savings per item.

Although other products have tried to bridge the bar-code and RFID worlds, Namazi maintains that his is the only product to tackle the problem directly at the POS level.

Jupiter Research analyst Bruce Cundiff, who tracks the RFID market, agreed, saying that Intelletto's RFID Multiport Companion is "going beyond just being bridge technology." Cundiff said that it could fill a hole left by vendors who are pushing either bar code or RFID, especially during "this extended period where there is going to have to be the coexistence of both technologies." That period could last seven or more years, he estimated.

One critical question is pricing. Intelletto is charging about $2,000 for the evaluation kit and setup software, plus a volume price of about $700 for each device, at a volume of from 10 to 25 units, going down to $610 for a volume buy of between 26 and 100 units.

"I'm seeing the value of this product," Jupiter's Cundiff said, but added: "How retailers are going to value it from a price perspective is unknown. How compelling it is really depends on the retailer's situation. How will it be for them to speed up the line?"

Each RFID Multiport Companion includes a built-in RFID reader/writer and antenna, two serial connections, a stand-alone comparison and verification of bar-code and RFID transponders, and the ability to handle the data transfers in two ways: either one bar code to one RFID write or multiple bar codes for every one RFID write.