CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
November 12, 2019
Forward Thinking

Report: RFID tags see steady growth for apparel, payment cards, farm animals

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Production forecast to grow from 17.5 billion tags in 2018 to 20 billion in 2019, IDTechEx says.

Chart: Total RFID Market in US$ BillionsDemand for radio frequency identification (RFID) tags in logistics may not have lived up to Wal-Mart's flash-in-the-pan push for the tracking technology back in 2003, but the market has been slowly and steadily growing over the years nonetheless, with the number of all tags sold globally set to climb from 17.5 billion tags in 2018 to 20 billion in 2019, a new report says.

That growth will be driven in part by hot demand for a specific model—passive RFID tags—which are on track to increase their 2019 sales by 13% over 2018, according to the report, "RFID Forecasts, Players and Opportunities 2019-2029." The study is a global annual survey of the RFID industry produced by Cambridge, U.K.-based analyst firm IDTechEx.

The estimated growth of passive RFID tags includes sales across the three main frequencies used: RAIN (or ultra-high frequency (UHF)) at 20%, high frequency (HF, including near-field communications (NFC)) at 5%, and low frequency (LF) at 2%. RAIN is a creative acronym for "radio frequency identification," coined as a reference to the cloud-based platforms that usually store the data those tags produce.

Revenue growth for RAIN RFID from 2018 to 2019 is forecast at 15%, with a total market value for RAIN tags in 2019 expected to be $953 million. By volume, the number of RAIN RFID tags is expected to increase from 15 billion being sold in 2019 to 41.2 billion RFID tags in 2024. That fast growth will be driven by its most common applications, which are tags on apparel and airline baggage, the report said.

RAIN tags will generate more growth when measured by the volume of tags sold than by the revenue they produce, since they are usually deployed as a disposable, inexpensive way to tag inventory, as opposed to the more expensive HF tags used for security applications like contactless payment and secure access, according to IDTechEx.

In comparison, HF (including NFC) 2019 tag revenue is far larger—totaling $3.8 billion, which includes non-label applications such as contactless payment and transit cards. Outside of payments, however, NFC technology will grow merely at single digit growth rates from 2018 to 2019, since the concept lacks a strong business case for high-volume production, IDTechEx said.

Across all technology types, IDTechEx predicts that growth areas for RFID include: apparel tagging (used in over 10 billion labels in 2019 despite market penetration of just 10%), contactless cards (to be used in 2.3 billion cards in 2019), and animals like pigs, sheep and pets (expected to demand 580 million tags in 2019 thanks largely to legal requirements for food tracking).

In addition to studying the passive RFID sector, the report also analyzes other forms of RFID, including battery-assisted passive, active, and chipless. The study concludes that the entire RFID market will swell from $11.6 billion in 2019 to $13 billion in 2022, when tallying the sales of tags, readers, and software/services for RFID labels, cards, fobs, and all other form factors, for both passive and active RFID.

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