Technology is constantly generating ideas that can improve the way that business is conducted. Some examples are huge, such as the internet or the use of cellular communications. Integrating these technologies into everyday business did not occur overnight (it only seems that way).
Great ideas find their path into business just as it does in everyday life. They start with one application and then grow as other uses come to light or are accepted into the mainstream. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is one such technology that has a huge potential for Cable Warehouse Management.
What is RFID Technology
In the simplest terms, RFID technology enables the transmission and receiving of radio waves between a tiny microchip (tag) and a reader. The chips contain asset information that can be used to identify it, track its movement or even its cost. Once an asset is tagged it can then be read by a reader for management review or action.
RFID can either be passive (no batteries), active (continuous broadcast with a battery) or be activated only when an RFID reader is in close proximity (requires a small battery). The greater the battery power the greater the cost. The cost of tags range for only a few cents for passive tags to upward of $50 for the powerful active tags.
In addition, there are two types of RFID classifications. The first is a fixed RFID which the reader is in a set position. The second is a mobile RFID where the reader may be part of a mobile handheld device. Because of the cost of active tags, many industries currently use passive or battery assisted tags to monitor inventory.
Over the last few years technology has improved the amount of information that can be contained on the tags as well as the ability to transmit (read) the information at greater distances. Perhaps the greatest advantage to industry is that unlike bar codes which can only be read one at a time, RFID tags can be read in bulk when located inside boxes, containers or a shrink wrapped pallet.
Industries Using RFID Technology
RFID technology is currently in use by the healthcare industry, by companies to automate Sarbanes-Oxley compliance and for use in inventory tracking. New applications are being developed every day and are expected to be used by manufacturing, construction and the military.
An example of RFID use in the retail industry has just been announced. Walmart recently announced the use of RFID for retail asset management specifically, to track clothing for better inventory.
Applying RFID Technology to Cable Warehouse Management
This has great potential for cable warehouses that move and store CPEin boxes or containers. Bulk and boxed reading is a significant advantage over bar code technology. For example, serialized inventory reconciliations in a cable warehouse can be reduced to just a simple walk-through (without paper) making accounting staff and cable warehouse managers very happy with the labor and paper flow expense savings.
Faster serialized reconciliations reduce the time before CPE theft is identified. As the technology develops it may even be used to stop unauthorized CPE from leaving warehouses by signaling alerts much like when shoplifters attempt to steal tagged articles of clothing. This can be accomplished by placing large racks of RFID readers along warehouse doors. When used this way, all CPE moving in and out of the warehouse is automatically tracked.
RFID technology can also be used to track CPE between locations in hub and spoke models, through repair and testing areas and can be used to identify CPE assigned to contractors. RFID technology enables cable warehouse managers to focus on core activities of moving CPE by reducing administrative tasks such as performing serialized reconciliations.
Developing RFID Technology
The biggest challenges to cost effectively integrating RFID tags on hidden assets are improving the strength of signal detection and increasing the amount of data that a tag can hold. Current chips generally hold 2KB of information (smaller than the size of a photo). Some more advanced chips are holding up to 64KB. We can expect microchip development to continue as they did in computers to hold much more information.
The more information that RFID tags can hold the more information that can be uploaded into the billing systems without operator involvement increasing efficiencies and lower labor costs.