Radio frequency identification, or RFID, is a generic term for technologies that use radio waves to identify individual items. The RFID is the physical carrier of the data which is in the form of an Electronic Product Code (EPC). There are several methods of identifying objects using RFID, but the most common is to store a serial number that identifies a product, and perhaps other information (the EPC), on a microchip that is attached to an antenna (the chip and the antenna together are called an RFID transponder or an RFID tag). The antenna enables the chip to transmit the identification information to a reader. The reader converts the radio waves returned from the RFID tag into a form that can then be passed on to computers that can make use of it.

What is the EPC?

The Electronic Product Code (EPC) is a numbering system that uniquely identifies all objects. Each item EPC is the key to information about that item and is kept on the EPC Global network. In each country a division of EPC Global will manage the EPC system and the data carried through the EPC/RFID. Like bar codes, the EPC (SGTIN) contains numbers that identify the company and the item but also includes a serial number which uniquely identifies that particular item. (Please note that there are various EPC tag coding standards depending on what the EPC is used for. For item identification, the EPC standard is the SGTIN.)

What is EPC Global’s role?

EPC Global will oversee the development of open, global standards for the EPC Network to facilitate worldwide, multi-sector industry adoption.

The basic format of the EPC (SGTIN) is as follows:

01. 203D2A9. 16E8B8. 719BAE03C
Header EPC Manager Number Object Class Serial Number
  • Header – the length, type, structure, version and generation of the EPC
  • EPC Manager Number - the company or company entity (like the Company Prefix in a traditional bar code)
  • Object Class – Identifies a class of objects – similar to the Item Reference portion of a traditional bar code or an SKU
  • Serial Number – Maked each EPC/item unique

Although there are many challenges, perhaps none is greater than the need for synchronization of data between trading partners. Without synchronization it has been suggested that all RFID will achieve will be the more efficient movement and collection of bad data.

For many reasons, including as a back-up to a failed RFID read and cost of RFID implementation, especially at the consumer item level, the barcode is expected to co-exist with RFID for some time into the future.