Mobile RFID

The potential to read RFID tags with mobile devices has always been possible in the industrial and commercial sector. In contrast, the use of RFID tags and mobile phones presents a possible exponential growth in the number of RFID data capture devices that will be available. Technology vendors within the Near Field Communication Forum, with a separate and different initiative from Korea, will be the main drivers to achieve this.

This represents a paradigm shift in potential applications for RFID, both in terms of adding functions to proposed RFID business applications such as item level coding, and creating new applications such as using RFID tags to provide a look-up reference to location information.

The work is fairly diversified and, in this clause, we concentrate on some of the generic issues and the specific work of JTC1 SC31 WG6.

Key relationships with other components

At a fairly basic level, adding RFID for data capture on a mobile phone is no different to one of the traditional portable hand-held reader companies introducing a new product. However there is a significant difference in the potential scale of market penetration, as shown from the following data.

Mobile phone functions: Source: TNS Mobile Trends Guide 2006, Computer Industry Almanac Tomi Ahonen Jan 2007Mobile phone functions: Source: TNS Mobile Trends Guide 2006, Computer Industry Almanac Tomi Ahonen Jan 2007

There are some technical and social issues that need to be considered:

  • Because mobile phones are devices that can be purchased by the general public the potential for new applications is significant. These will either extend the benefits and functions of RFID tags that will already be in place, such as being able to read a tag on a food item and using some look-up service to identify whether any of the ingredients present potential allergy problems to a consumer. New applications will include using RFID tags as reference points for geo-location within towns and cities either for tourists or for people with disabilities.
  • Given that there are very few air interface protocols, and with current targets on mobile phones being focused on 13.56 MHz (NFC) and UHF (Korean perspective), mobile phones will be able to read any RFID tag compliant with the air interface protocol installed in a mobile phone. Generally speaking, reading an RFID tag is not considered to be a problem for security or confidentiality in open system supply chain activities. 
  • A more significant concern is the potential capability of mobile phones – in the hands of anyone – being able to re-write data on an RFID tag. Given the low levels of security with RFID, this could pose a problem for tags that are generally exposed to the public.
  • A similar challenge exists with the fact that the mobile phone – particularly the NFC concept of using the phone as an electronic purse – acts a tag emulator. Used for legitimate purposes in well-defined applications, this will increase potential benefits. Again, the problem is with the fact that the mobile phone tag emulator in an application not designed to support this will, at best, treat such a "tag" as one from a different domain/name space. A more concerning scenario is if the application has no means of filtering out tags from other domains or, worse still, if the mobile phone is used as a means of either hacking into or attacking the application.

We also note a potential divergence in the starting positions of the two main groups developing standards. The Near Field Communication Forum built its original structures based on ISO/IEC 14443 operating at 13.56 MHz. It also supports the Japanese FeliCa (JIS X6319-4) also operating at 13.56 MHz. In contrast, the initial focus from the Korean proposal to SC31 has been on UHF technology operating at 860 to 960 MHz.

Standards

The only ISO standard so far approved is ISO/IEC 29143, dealing with the air interface specification. Other Work Items are being balloted with a close date of the end of October 2008. The Near Field Communication Forum has also published a number of standards. We include details of one in the annex to this clause. Details of others are available from the following URL.

http://www.nfc-forum.org/specs/

Significant development areas

Our initial research on the NFC Forum standards indicates that there is no support for urn:oid, and the support for the EPCglobal standard appears to be based on the direct encoding of the urn:epc (and variants) and not the basic EPC code.

Our analysis of the New Work Item proposals for SC31 indicates that, as presently focused, the ISO standards might not be capable of reading EPC codes directly encoded in an RFID tag, nor unique item identifiers compliant with the ISO/IEC 15962 encoding rules. Further research is not possible with the ISO standards until the New Work Items are approved or rejected.

If our limited analysis is correct, the major format for encoding unique item identifiers is not directly addressed by these two mobile phone initiatives. The parallel, sometimes diverging, activities of the Near Field Communication Forum and JTC1 SC31 WG6 require further investigation, which might be better undertaken within the CASAGRAS project, as some of the developments are beyond the scope of supply chain activities.

In addition, there is a further risk of divergence given the preferred focus on air interface technologies:

  • With the NFC Forum supporting 13.56 MHz (ISO/IEC 14443).
  • The SC31 WG6 standards being focused on UHF technology.

A final development area that needs to be taken into account is the recent GS1 Mobile Communications initiative, which is considering both RFID and bar code data capture.