RFID to help keep the world's mail on time

A UN agency is turning to cheap, standardized tags to test delivery around the world

One of the world's newest communications technologies soon will be used to track one of the oldest.

The Universal Postal Union (UPU), an arm of the United Nations that coordinates international postal mail services, has embarked on a project to use RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) to track the speed of international deliveries.

The program, using tag processing systems from Reva Systems, will begin a test phase later this month in 21 countries. The UPU expects it to be used in 100 countries by 2012.

Unlike private delivery services such as FedEx, regular postal delivery is not operated by a single organization. Consumers buy stamps in one country that have to get a piece of mail into another country and through the domestic mail system there to a particular destination.

The UPU sets quality-of-service rules for how long that should take, as well as standard origination and termination fees for countries to settle the cost of getting the mail where it's going.

Though it may not seem like it to some people anxiously awaiting letters from far-off friends, the UPU regularly monitors how long it takes international mail to be delivered.

Parcels have bar codes that are scanned at every point along the way, but traditional letters don't. About 15 million letters are sent across borders every day, according to the UPU.

So far, the UPU has monitored letter delivery by sending special test letters. Independent analysts record the departure and arrival of these test letters, but at the gateway offices where letters leave and enter countries, postal workers themselves record the time.

That leaves the process open to manipulation, said Akio Mayiji, quality of service coordinator at the UPU.

The RFID system instead will use tags hidden inside envelopes, which will be read automatically as they pass through RFID portals at the international gateway offices.

Reva Systems' TAP (Tag Acquisition Processor) servers will collect the letters' unique tracking numbers and pass them on to be correlated into delivery reports. The UPU wants countries to pay each other based on the quality of service their letters receive, and more detailed measurement will help it do so, Miyaji said.

RFID is already used to monitor mail in some developed countries, but the systems they have deployed use "semi-active" tags that cost $US20 each. A relatively new global standard for RFID, called Gen2, allowed the UPU to introduce passive-tag systems that cost far less: Each tag only costs about$US0.30, and the UPU considers them disposable.

The lower cost should make RFID accessible to all of the UPU's 191 member countries. The scope of quality testing can also be expanded, so tens of thousands of test letters are moving through the system at any time.

The other advantage of Gen2 is that the UPU can deploy locally approved products in each country and know they all comply with Gen2 and can read every tag that is sent through, said Reva Systems Chairman Ashley Stephenson.

"This couldn't have happened three years ago," Stephenson said.

The RFID portals are the size of regular loading docks, and all the mail going in and out of a depot passes through them. The tags inside the test letters are about the size of credit cards.

They are passive tags, with no power source of their own, but when the radio waves from a portal hit one, it pulls in enough energy from those waves to transmit the data stored within it, Stephenson said. Though such tags can hold hundreds or thousands of bytes of data, these will contain only a globally unique identification number, he said.

The 21 countries involved in the initial Gen2 RFID test are all over the world and include India, South Korea, Switzerland and Togo.

Some countries that already have the older RFID systems, including Mexico, Norway and Saudi Arabia, will also be among the 21 test countries.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags RFIDMail

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?