VeriSign has been awarded a contract to manage a key component of a coming global distribution network that uses electronic product code (EPC) technology, according to a joint announcement by VeriSign and EPCglobal, a non-profit organisation.
The contract, for an undisclosed amount, assigned VeriSign the job of designing and operating the Object Naming Service (ONS) root directory, which would link RFID tags attached to shipping palates or individual products to stored data about the tagged items, product manager at EPCglobal, Sue Hutchinson, said.
EPCGlobal and Verisign made the announcement at the National Retail Federation Annual Convention and Expo in New York.
EPCs are unique numbers, akin to automobile license plates, that identify items in shipping cases and pallets.
Using RFID technology, the EPC information could be broadcast to handheld and mounted RFID readers, which tracked the items as they moved through an organisation's supply chain, from manufacturing floor to store shelf, Hutchinson said.
The ONS would function like the US Department of Motor Vehicles for companies that use EPCs to track merchandise, relating the unique EPC number to information that describes the product, she said.
ONS is key to the commercialisation of the EPC network, which was developed by a public-private initiative coordinated by the Auto-ID Centre at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Without it, trading partners using EPC can only transmit product information directly using "point to point" communications, Hutchinson said. In design, ONS was similar to the Domain Name System (DNS), which linked requests for user-friendly domain names to numeric IP (Internet Protocol) addresses, director of EPC Network Services at VeriSign, Jon Brendsel, said.
That made VeriSign, which manages the DNS root servers for the .com and .net Internet domains, a natural candidate to run the ONS root server, Hutchinson said.
"They have a long term standing in the community, with the knowledge and capabilities to support ONS," she said. VeriSign beat several other competitors to win control of the ONS root server, though EPCglobal would not comment on which or how many other organisations submitted proposals to manage ONS. VeriSign would run ONS from six globally distributed resolution servers, akin to the servers it now used for its managed DNS services, Brendsel said. EPCglobal will pay VeriSign to build out and operate the ONS infrastructure.
EPCglobal, in turn, would charge subscription fees from companies and organisations interested in using the EPC Network, Brendsel said. As EPC deployments grow and ONS traffic increases, VeriSign will consider moving ONS to its high-availability Advanced Transaction Lookup and Signalling system (ATLAS) platform, which is used to manage the .com and .net root servers.
VeriSign and EPCglobal estimated that the growing use of EPCs and RFID technology could produce billions of ONS requests per day within five years, Brendsel and Hutchinson said.
VeriSign currently received about 10 billion requests a day for the .com and .net domains, Brendsel said.
Growth would be driven, in part, by recent edicts from larger organisations such as the US Department of Defense and retail giant Wal-Mart Stores, that suppliers use the new technology, he said.
VeriSign is also planning a number of managed services, including a "managed ONS" service, that it would market to companies interested in outsourcing elements of their EPC operations, he said.
Real demand for such services might be year off, but it would grow as EPCs slowly replaced bar code technology, creating a new worldwide network of intelligent objects, Brendsel said.
"Think of DNS in 1993. This is going to be big," he said.