by Bob Walters | September 01, 2007

When I first wrote about the coming radio frequency identification phenomenon, the industry was predicting that using RFID for tracking attendance, lead retrieval, show-floor traffic patterns and attendee locator services would change how we think of our name badges and how we go about capturing data on-site. For the most part, this has been accomplished.

History Lessons

From the early days, the adoption of RFID has grown, but mostly for larger shows. The primary obstacles are affordability and flexibility of users.

Badge costs have come down from more than $2 each to as low as 40 cents for the basic tracking. Different types of technologies are used: passive (wherein the work is done by a reader and the badge carries a small amount of information) and active (the badge contains a small battery and is transmitting its signal).

Confidentiality concerns have been addressed in a number of ways. For example, a passive badge can be read only by a handheld or unattended reader that has been activated and set to read the data. In some cases, these passive readers are connected via a wireless network that verifies and authenticates information before it is displayed. However, these can be very expensive and also somewhat unreliable due to the various components involved.

The active RFID technology at first was considered undesirable because cell phones, personal digital assistants or notebooks with infrared capability were able to access the information being transmitted and, in one case at an international conference, track an attendee’s location. This concern has been addressed by setting up the active RFID signal so that it is looking for a corresponding response signal before it actually transmits any information, so that an individual’s information contained on a badge cannot be read by anything other than a properly configured device.

New Products

One provider, SMART-reg International (, based in Palo Alto, Calif., has introduced several services packaged around its All in the Badge product, which is a badge that can be configured to hold up to 1,000 characters of information. These badges can be touched to a reader to display the attendee’s agenda, which in turn can be printed from a local printer or used to control attendance at sessions by basically marking off the attendance on the badge itself Ñ and preventing attendees from sharing their badges to gain admittance to events. The badge also can be used for lead retrieval and validation of attendance at a session. These badges cost about 60 cents each, and the readers for lead retrieval are around $190, with the data delivered on a USB flash drive.

Another company using RFID for meetings is Convention Strategy (, based in Germantown, Md. The firm offers miRFID, a technology providing badges with minimal attendee information that can be read by RFID scanners placed at the entrance to seminar rooms, trade show aisles, or other locations where traffic or attendance is tracked.

Combining the best of RFID lead retrieval and the Internet is Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based TechNeat ( This uses a modified BlackBerry with a magstripe that captures the information, lets the user edit or enter notes and, when a wireless signal is available, lets the user upload the information to a secure password-protected website (thus allowing staff back at the office to generate fulfillment or schedule appointments right away).

Stay tuned. Prices will continue to come down as the technology expands and competition grows.

Bob Walters,he is based in Battle Creek, Mich., is founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak Software.