Ofcom, the UK uber-regulator, has today announced that they have removed the licensing restrictions on the frequency that radio frequency identification(RFID) tags use.
The currently spectrum available is limited to the range 869.4 to 869.65 MHz. The new position will make the range much wider, stretching between 865-868 MHz range.
The extension isn’t a great surprise as, for a number of years, there has been great excitement in industry as to the possible uses of RFID. The much used example is to improve the efficiency of handling goods in a warehouse, where items within a crate are wirelessly read, and their number deducted from the known stock list automatically as they leave the warehouse.
Many have voiced concerns about the privacy problems of information being remotely read about a person, using RFID, without their knowledge, or complicity. Their oft cited, but basically harmless example is of each item of clothing that a person is wearing being read as they walk into a shop.
Ofcom say that when coming to their decision, they considered two main issues. The first, the potential of interference from RFID devices, concluding that current legislation of output levels covered this. Secondarily, the economic costs and benefits. We quote
Ofcom conducted an impact assessment which found that the potential net benefits to businesses (through better inventory management and improved security) and consumers (if savings were reflected in lower prices) would be £100 – £200 million over 10 years
Benefits are clear for business, as efficiency is improved, by removing employees from the equation. Those to the consumers are less clear, as we can see Ofcom effectively acknowledge in their bracketed ‘if savings were reflected in lower prices’. Given what we know about the pursuit of profit, we see this as a very large If.
Perhaps the revealing section in Ofcom’s announcement is that they “seek to deregulate in order to increase the amount of licence-exempt spectrum used by businesses to bring new technologies and services to the market.” (Our stress).
It could be argued that Ofcom are losing site of their statutory dutiesunder the Communications Act 2003 – to look after the interests of the public. Specifically, quoting from the Ofcom site (again our stress).
3(1) It shall be the principal duty of Ofcom, in carrying out their functions;
(a) to further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters; and
(b) to further the interests of consumers in relevant markets, where appropriate by promoting competition”
The above is listed on the ‘about section’ on Ofcom’s site .