Postal RFID – Innovations


The UPU Advanced Electronics User Group held a Workshop in Berne on 1st November entitled “RFID Innovations and Applications in the Postal Sector” The Director General of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), Edouard Dayan and Akio Miyaji (the UPU’s Director of Operations and Technology) welcomed the attendees and Li Xueping from China Post chaired the event.  Akhilesh Mather moderated the Q&A sessions.

I was asked to give a “keynote presentation” on how RFID technologies had changed over recent years.  I emphasised that the next generation of smart barcodes (like QR codes) needed to be used alongside RFID, NFC, Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) and Real Time Locating Systems (RTLS).  There needed to be “a better understanding of” and a “clear differentiation between” the serialised identification used (the payload) and the technology carrying the unique identifier.  My contention was that the ISO License Plate standard should be used to uniquely identify all serialised items – Letters, Parcels, Trays and Roll Cages.  The Licence Plate could be the “payload” in either a barcode or an RFID tag (or both). A similar approach also needed to be used to code tracking locations, Postcodes and addresses.  We also had an interesting discussion about postal opportunities for printed RFID.

Craig Alan Repec from GS1 explained how the EPCIS information model standard worked and the messaging standards used in retail.  The UPU had signed a MoU with GS1 in December and it was well understood that Retail and Postal standards need to work in harmony – the opportunity being more retail business for all UPU member organisations.

Alan Smith from Australia Post provided a very practical presentation on how RFID was being used within Australia Post for the “Root Cause Analysis” and “rectification” of quality of service issues. Keld Ole Nielsen from Lyngsoe Systems explained how their RFID systems which are widely deployed by Posts for covert quality measurement were also being used for Airline Baggage Quality Monitoring (ABQM).

There is an ambition to move to an “End to End” Covert Measurement scheme for Mail.  Johan Van den Bergh from IPC showed a device that could be used to track Semi-Active RFID tags in mailboxes.  Birahim Fall from the UPU showed a Quotas solution for tracking passive tags in a similar way.  I think these initiatives are worthwhile but there are a large number of countries where “Mailbox, Posting Box and PO Box” designs would disclose any panellists using this type of technology. There was also an interesting example of a combined “Semi-Active” and “Passive” test letter design.

Waheed BuSaeed from Saudi Post, Zen Qingpo and Dr Lu Yue from China Post and Sander Hart de Ruyter from Post NL presented some really excellent Cases Studies on how RFID is being used and evaluated by their organisations. AIDA Centre presented the UPU’s Global Monitoring System for covert mail measurement.

Kerry Krause VP Marketing at Impinj shared his views on future directions (features, performance and price) for passive UHF RFID Technologies.

Ingrid Sorensen from Post Denmark and Niels Bjol from Commotive gave a really fascinating presentation of the Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) which was recently rolled out throughout Denmark (with an excellent financial payback). The technology is based on Zigbee using IEEE 802.15.4 protocols and the 2.5 GHz frequency.  Zigbee is a wireless technology currently being considered for Smart Metering applications in a home environment. So your Electricity Meter will tell you when your mail has arrived!!  This is an exciting technology but it will be important to ensure that it is configured to comply with other UPU standards and Technology Roadmaps and also check that it will work globally.

Richard Wishart
Expert in Barcode, RFID, WSN and RTLS systems and Domain expert on Postal Business

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