Study Crowns HF the Item-Level King

April 12, 2006
The “physics-based” tests may help move the industry beyond the HF/UHF debate.

By Paul Thomas, Managing Editor

A new study concludes that high frequency (HF) RFID tags trump ultra high frequency (UHF) tags for use with item-level pharmaceutical products. The study would seem to verify a developing consensus within the industry, one that has played out in recent pilots by Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline that rely upon HF at the item level. (To obtain a 3-page, PDF format excerpt from the study, click the Download Now button below.)

The study, conducted by Odin Technologies and Unisys, examined a variety of popular HF and UHF tags for performance regarding:

  • Read distance;

  • Orientation sensitivity, such as how well tags are read when facing away from an RFID reader;

  • Material dependence, or how liquids and metals might impact tag readability;

  • Encode speed;

  • Tag quality.

“The clear winner for right now is high frequency,” says Odin president and CEO Patrick J. Sweeney II. HF “won” five of the eight tests that were conducted, while UHF fared better in two and one was a draw, he says.

The most important category tested may be material dependence, since manufacturers must guarantee high read rates for RFID to be effective for product monitoring and supply chain efficiencies. In this regard, UHF “wasn’t even close” to the near 100% read rates seen for HF, Sweeney remarks.

UHF advocates have argued that theirs is still a maturing technology and will eventually rival HF for the item level. Sweeney admits that work such as that Impinj is doing to develop “UHF in the Near-Field” has the potential to make UHF a more viable alternative for item-level tagging. Still, he says, there are other issues to be examined, such as whether or not UHF frequencies may significantly impact biologic products.

UHF was the clear winner in terms of read distances, as well as for speed. “Although UHF is faster, HF is fast enough,” says Todd Skrinar, a partner in Unisys’ healthcare and life sciences practice.

Sweeney and Skrinar hope that the report will provide a “rule set” that will allow the drug industry to move beyond the HF/UHF item-level debate, which has inhibited more widespread adoption of RFID technology. There are other compelling dilemmas to be solved. One, says Skrinar, is how companies that manufacture both pharmaceuticals and consumer packaged goods will proceed with their RFID implementations, since most CPG companies have become comfortable with UHF at the item level.

For more information or to order a copy of the full report, contact Odin Technologies (