(August 16, 2010) — The IDTechEx report, "Active RFID and Sensor Networks 2011-2021," comprehensively analyzes the technologies, players and markets with detailed 10-year forecasts, including tag numbers, unit prices and interrogator numbers and prices. Details of over 75 active RFID implementations are given along with over 100 suppliers and full technology analysis — from printed batteries to Wi-Fi RFID to UWB tags and systems. IDTechEx constructed 10-year forecasts usefully segmented by frequency, application, territory, etc, and illustrated by dozens of tables and figures. The active RFID market will grow to almost 10 times its present size by 2020.
Figure. The report shows the penetration of active RFID into different application sectors over the next ten years.
The term Active RFID incorporates many technologies including Real Time Locating Systems, Ubiquitous Sensor Networks and Active RFID with ZigBee, RuBee, Ultra Wide Band and WiFi. Active RFID, where a battery drives the tag, is responsible for an increasing percentage of the money spent in the burgeoning RFID market. It will rise from 13% of the total RFID market in 2010 to 25% in 2020, meaning a huge $6.02 billion market. If we include the market for cell phone RFID modules (another form of active RFID), the market is an additional $0.18 billion in 2010 and $1.6 billion in 2020.
Factors for growth
Factors creating this growth will be Real Time Location Systems (RTLS), and ubiquitous RFID sensor systems (also known as wireless sensor networks. Conventional active RFID used where passive solutions are inadequate and RFID modules for mobile phones will make up the rest. The rapid growth of the active RFID market is being driven by such factors as: Much stronger market demand for tracking, locating and monitoring people and things. This is driven by security, safety, cost and customer satisfaction, for example. Important factors are increased competition in consumer goods, the new terrorism, internal theft, threatened epidemics of disease, coping with increasing numbers of elderly persons and consumers demanding better service and more information.
- Reduction in cost and size of the tags and systems. With lower power circuits, button batteries are now adequate for most applications and even printed batteries are gaining a place. In future, miniature fuel cells, printed photovoltaics and other power sources will have a place. This will help to overcome constraints of lifetime, cost and size.
- Development of Ubiquitous Sensor Networks (USN) where large numbers of active RFID tags with sensors are radio networked in buildings, forests, rivers, hospitals and many other locations.
- Availability of open standards — notably ISO 18000-7, IEEE 802.15.4 and NFC.
- Leveraging many newly popular forms of short range wireless communication, particularly WiFi and ZigBee and including mesh networks
- Use of mobile phones for purchasing, mass transit and interrogating smart posters, etc.
Active RFID sales to 2010
To the beginning of 2010, 772 million active RFID tags have been sold with the vast majority used for car clickers (690 million). Like these, a large percentage of active RFID tags being sold in the future will replace nothing: they will perform new functions. The second biggest use for active RFID to date has been by the military, using 14 million active RFID tags so far. Both sectors have spent over $1 billion on active RFID.
We are now in the decade of most active tags having button batteries and being the size of a matchbox and often incorporating other radio systems, and sometimes being parasitic upon them in some cases. Overlapping this, we are starting the decade or more of active RFID in the form of a label or laminate. This has been triggered by costs of smart active labels and battery assisted passive (BAP) tags coming down, even those incorporating sensors, and their laminar batteries having enhanced power and life. Some will even have displays. That will run in parallel with matchbox-sized and smaller active RFID tags that are exceptionally capable, with such features as Real Time Location Systems (RTLS) and multiple sensing.
Recently, the investment community has taken even more interest in active RFID. Of 27 recent fund raisings by RFID companies studied by IDTechEx, 37% of the companies involved are in active RFID. 22% are in the particularly popular RTLS sector. Recent acquisitions also favor active RFID companies. Indeed the largest exit, for hundreds of millions of dollars, was a company selling active RFID and RTLS systems.
Active RFID a systems business
Companies involved know that this is not like the highest volume uses of passive RFID tags where disposable labels are usually involved and the label cost can be 50% of total cost. Most active RFID (such as RTLS) is more of a systems business.
Active tag price
With over 100 companies now involved in some part of the active RFID value chain, and considerable government financing of research on low cost active RFID, unit prices will strongly erode, creating a strong growth in numbers sold. The price erosion will be more rapid in some years as new technologies come into play such as new microbatteries and printed logic.
Throughout the next ten years, RTLS will dominate the spend on tags but this will consist of many small orders. Mobile phone/cell phone modules will see considerable price erosion as they are increasingly incorporated into the phone circuitry and volumes increase.
In the future, we see active RFID as intimately involved with many short range radio systems and interfaces, including passive RFID.
Analysis of Active RFID implementations
In IDTechEx’s analysis of 75 active RFID case studies from 18 countries, the largest number of projects we have located has been in Logistics with around double the number for each of the nearest contenders – Air Industry, Automotive/Transportation and Healthcare. Added to those as important sectors will be such things as safety of constructions and people monitored by Ubiquitous Sensor Networks in later years. Meanwhile, RTLS is being put in about 50 hospitals yearly, for staff, patients and assets. In the case studies, the items that are tagged were mainly containers, followed by vehicles, conveyances and people and this probably reflects the market as a whole.
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