Monitoring mail with RFID technology

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification and is the enabling technology for measuring the performance of items that do not have a barcode such as letter mail. Since the introduction by IPC in 1997, it is now in use by well over 50 postal operators and the technology has been extended to alternative postal applications.

How letter performance is measured with RFID tags

RFID is an alternative technology to barcodes for the identification of items. The main difference is that barcode information is captured by optical means (a barcode scanner) whereas the RFID information is captured via a radio signal. The captured information is the same but the means are different.

The main advantage of the technology is that it is easy to automate the data capture process compared to barcodes. Scanning barcodes is typically a manual process which makes it more labour intensive.

The absence of unique identifiers requires the implementation of a sampling methodology, where test letters are mailed according to a statistical model. The posting and delivery dates are recorded by trained people. This data only provides information about the time the test letter takes to complete its journey.

The inclusion of an RFID transponder or tag in the test letter makes it possible to track the item at specific locations, typically where mail changes responsibility from the sending post to the receiving post. RFID equipment at specific entrance or exit doors records the passage of these tags without interfering with the operational process. The time and location is associated with the item details. This information undisputedly marks the ownership of the mail item that is necessary for measuring the letter performance of the postal operator responsible for processing the mail.

Latest developments

In 2015, IPC expanded the passive RFID network to support INTERCONNECT tracking services and continues to do so in 2016. Moreover, IPC implemented a new open data exchange platform based on the Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) framework to facilitate the RFID data communication with other EPCIS-compliant networks. 

IPC also developed a new standard tag testing methodology and qualification criteria for benchmarking new passive RFID tags. Furthermore, IPC developed new proposals for postal RFID-encoding standards for item, receptacle and asset tracking.