WiFi and RFID Need to Talk

Unifying wireless networks will ultimately enhance the entire network by removing those dreaded slow points, boosting efficiency and performance.

The wireless world is changing at an astonishing rate. Technologies are emerging that will have an enormous impact on industries such as retail, manufacturing, and healthcare. The arrival of the IEEE 802.11n wireless standard promises transfer speeds of up to 540Mb/s, and WiMAX will offer wireless access at distances of up to 50 kilometres and speeds of up to 70Mb/s.

Already, companies have realised substantial cost savings and increases in efficiencies by implementing Wi-Fi and RFID in their operations. But as wireless systems continue to change and evolve, can businesses keep up with this new technology?

Today, deploying disparate Wi-Fi and RFID systems implies spending resources on integration solutions, and risking data loss at certain junctions. For example, at a stock inventory level, information about movement of goods collected by RFID readers will have to be transmitted to the stock control system. Typically, integration between these two systems has to be handled by a third-party solution, leaving a number of “junctions” open to the possible risk of data loss.

Companies also need to understand how emerging technologies will affect their business. For example, new technology often needs to be painstakingly integrated into the existing network, and new standards and products may either complement or replace old systems completely.

By unifying Wi-Fi and RFID, companies can speed up their stock checking and inventory processes. On top of that, but they will be able to ensure that there’s no possibility of data loss at the junctions of different technologies (such as between the scanning of an RFID tag and the subsequent transmission of data via a wireless LAN).

Businesses can also improve system performance, operational efficiencies, and security; help ensure data delivery; and save money on “translating” between Wi-Fi and RFID by using this unified approach. Naturally, these systems will “talk” to each other, since they will be compatible and interconnected. This is the basis for “RF Switching” (Radio Frequency Switching).

An RF switch will unite wireless technologies in the enterprise. Large and small businesses will experience greater ease of deployment, as well as greater manageability of the unified systems. It will also enable the possibility of greater wireless coverage in larger environments based on new technologies and standards such as WiMAX. By unifying systems, companies gain a comprehensive “blanket” solution, rather than having distinct, but logically connected, systems.

To some extent, next-generation wireless is simply a natural progression of existing technology, with a move to interconnect systems using common protocols. It will make use of wireless switching to manage this data and access ports that can create wireless mesh networks. Currently, all of these solutions and technologies are very new.

However, in the future, they will provide enhanced control and depth. For example, companies will be able to see a graphical representation of wireless coverage strength within networks. Therefore, they will be able to optimise accesspoint/ access-port placement. In addition, they will more precisely define the point where mobile devices switch from using one wireless technology (e.g. WLAN) to another.

Improved fixed/mobile convergence (FMC) will also occur. Many companies are adopting voice over IP (VoIP) because it enables them to rationalise their infrastructure and save money on voice calls. In a large warehouse or other fast-moving environment, it’s not always practical to have fixed or limited range cordless VoIP phones in place. Routing voice calls over a wireless LAN enables companies to cash in on the savings of VoIP and to take calls anywhere within their WLAN.

These technologies are also becoming smarter. Phones will adapt so that they can always make conventional calls using traditional mobile networks. However, when they detect a WLAN, the telephone will instead route the call over the wireless network.

As the systems are unified, data will move more swiftly, and interconnected devices will allow companies to know exactly what devices are in the area and where they’re located. Moreover, in the not so distant future, “RF switching” will extend the convergence of Wi-Fi and RFID to include WiMAX, ZigBee, meshed, and other wireless technologies. An RF switch brings a common point of management for all types of RF being deployed in an enterprise.

The benefits of such developments are clear. Companies will gain cost savings from unifying their networks, as well as improved efficiency, and easier and more powerful control over the network. Interconnecting systems allows companies to know exactly what they have and where it is, in real-time and with no delay at the junctions between systems.

Of course, this may all seem like a somewhat rose-tinted view, and undoubtedly there will be teething problems as the new systems are put into place and tested. However, the vision of unifying wireless networks is within reach and will be in place within a few years. The improvements in efficiency will not simply come because the wireless devices can move data faster. The interlinking of the systems will lead to better data transmission, and as every company knows, removing unnecessary slow points in any supply chain, be it physical goods or data, enhances the entire network. Companies need to understand exactly what benefits this new system will offer, because as we have seen, time and technology stands still for no man.

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