Pharma’s Mixed-Up RFID Future

Feb. 9, 2006
Both HF and UHF are here to stay at the item level. ABI Research’s Sara Shah explains what it means, and provides an exclusive excerpt from her most recent report on RFID in the drug industry.

A general consensus has developed in the pharmaceutical industry that high frequency (13.56 MHz) radio frequency tags are better suited for item-level deployment on drug bottles. HF may be more accurate and perform better near metals and liquids than ultra high frequency (915 MHz) tags, but UHF still has its supporters.

“The whole frequency debate is getting settled,” Shah says. “People have come to accept the fact that it’s going to be a mixed environment.” While Wal-Mart’s mandate — that products coming from its suppliers carry UHF tags at the item level — has had a definite impact, prominent manufacturers such as Pfizer have gone the HF route for their recent item-level implementations.

(ABI Research has just released Shah’s most recent report on the state of RFID in the pharmaceutical industry. For an exclusive excerpt, click the “Download Now” button below. For more information or to purchase the report, visit

The HF/UHF decision may even be product-specific for many manufacturers, Shah says. The challenge will be for wholesalers and distributors to adapt to, and afford, manufacturers’ diverse, expanding RFID implementations.

Despite improving technology and continued encouragement from FDA, manufacturers are adopting RFID at a somewhat disappointing pace, Shah says. “Last year, people were very excited about the market because they were expecting more Pfizer-scale implementations,” she says. “Instead, they’ve continued to take a measured approach. They’re just waiting to devise a clear plan for implementation and for costs to come down.”

Many companies have come to the realization that, while RFID tag costs are dipping, it’s not enough to offset the expense of labor and services associated with readying a facility and its workers for RFID, Shah says.

With manufacturers hesitant to jump into the market, RFID hardware and software vendors have yet to see the business case for pharma-specific products. The exception is electronic pedigree software, she notes, because pharmaceuticals is the one industry that really needs it at the moment. SupplyScape and Raining Data are leading the e-pedigree market, says Shah.

For an exclusive excerpt (5 pages, PDF format) of ABI Research's new report on RFID in the pharmaceutical industry, click the “Download Now” button below.

About the Author

Paul Thomas | Managing Editor