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Sun opens test warehouse for RFID

Sun last week put its money where its mouth is when it promised that it was "committed to driving the evolution of RFID technology and standards." On Wednesday, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based systems company opened an RFID testing facility in Dallas.

The new 17,000 square foot, RFID-enabled warehouse -- complete with loading docks, high-speed conveyor belts and forklifts -- is designed, in Sun's words, "to provide a controlled environment that simulates the varying conditions of an actual distribution center or warehouse as specified by RFID mandates." It gives RFID product vendors a practice field on which to try out their RFID deployments and test products for standards compliance.

RFID is a radio frequency-based mechanism that may displace bar-code scanning as a means of identifying inventory. The earliest RFID test beds were in Europe, where some pilots encountered bandwidth and computational throughput issues. RFID is not entirely new -- it is used in the Exxon-Mobil SpeedPass found at many U.S. gas stations.

"Our goal with this Test Center is to provide customers with access to the technology and the systems needed to test their RFID implementations, and to reduce the time and overall cost required for customers to meet these mandates," said Larry Singer, senior vice president of global markets and strategies at Sun.

The test center supports full-scale compliance testing and model-tag deployments, Sun execs said at last week's grand opening. The controlled environment is designed to simulate scenarios within a distribution center or warehouse. The environment has been filled with the latest warehouse logistics and RFID equipment from Sun and its partners, including ADT Security Services, Alien Technology Ltd., Applied Wireless Identification Group Inc., i2, Matrics Inc., Nortel Networks, Printronix Inc., ProdexNet, Provia, SAMSys Technologies Inc., SeeBeyond, SupplyScape, Texas Instruments, Tibco, Tyco Fire & Security and Venture Research Inc.

Julie Sarbacker, Sun's director of Auto-ID, said that the test center is Sun's way of responding to recent calls from major retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target and Albertsons -- as well as the U.S. Department of Defense -- for RFID compliance among their suppliers and members. Sun will certify vendor products' compliance with current retailing specifications.

Wal-Mart is requiring its top 100 suppliers to implement its RFID spec by January 1, 2005. The new test center is all but a direct response to Wal-Mart's announcement. Sun announced that it would be opening the test center last November. At the time, Sun's new COO, Jonathan Schwartz, then VP of software, said, "The impact of Wal-Mart's Radio Frequency ID (RFID) mandate to its suppliers is enormous and will change the way manufacturers and suppliers track inventory. RFID is a game changer for retailers, manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies to name just a few of the impacted industries. Sun is committed to providing open, standards-based RFID middleware software that leverages our Sun Java Enterprise System."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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