Cablegate: Taiwan's Rfid Industry - Lots of Hype, Limited

Published: Fri 29 Apr 2005 02:02 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) Taiwan industry and government is seriously
interested in the economic potential of radio frequency
identification technology. Much of the focus is on
logistics/supply chain management systems that would
require a universal standard and inexpensive tag
manufacturing. Taiwan observers believe that the EPCglobal
standard, favored by U.S. industry, will become dominant
globally. They are little concerned about PRC efforts to
develop a unique proprietary standard. Predictions vary
about how soon tag prices will drop to levels that make
widespread RFID supply chain management feasible. Taiwan
currently has an advantage in the manufacturing of tags and
possibly the readers also. However, Taiwan industry and
policy makers should also seek to develop the island's
potential to produce integrated RFID supply chain
management systems, if the RFID industry is to become a new
source of sustained economic growth. End summary.
The Hype
2. (U) Wal-Mart's requirement that its top suppliers attach
radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to certain
products has dramatically increased expectations about the
growth of the RFID industry and its potential to spur
economic growth in Taiwan. Many Taiwan firms are preparing
to take advantage of the expected boom in the RFID
industry. Major multi-nationals including HP and Microsoft
have established research facilities in Taiwan to develop
RFID hardware and applications. The Taiwan government's
Industrial Development Bureau offers subsidies for firms
developing RFID technology, and the quasi-government
Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) has
established the "RFID Research and Industrial Application
Alliance" with private sector partners. Nevertheless, the
real economic potential of RFID is still not clear.
Options for Taiwan Business - Two Systems...
3. (SBU) There are numerous potential applications for RFID
technology. Many Taiwan entrepreneurs break down potential
business opportunities into two types of systems -- open and
closed. Open systems include the type of broad
logistics/supply chain management systems that are required
to implement Wal-Mart's new mandates. This kind of system
has two crucial features. First, the system must have
universal standards so that many different firms can access
information recorded on RFID tags. This has caused some
international concern, particularly about PRC moves to
establish its own proprietary standards. However, Taiwan
RFID industry executives and analysts express few concerns
about PRC efforts to develop unique standards. Most
believe that the EPCglobal standard, favored by U.S.
industry, will become the dominant standard for supply
chain management globally. Taiwan's ITRI is a member of
the EPCglobal Inc., the industry organization that
developed the standard. (Note: EPC stands for electronic
produce code. End note.)
4. (SBU) In addition, an effective logistics/supply chain
management system will require low-cost, mass-produced
tags. Otherwise the savings offered by more efficient
supply chain management will be eaten up by the cost of
implementing the system. Industry insiders frequently cite
a cost of USD 0.05 per tag or less as the break even point
for an overall cost savings system. David Wang, the
Chairman of Avisotech and a businessman who is active in
Taiwan government and industry association efforts develop
the RFID industry in Taiwan, doubts the cost of materials
will permit production of economically efficient RFID tags
in the near future. However, Huang Chi-fang, an
engineering professor at Taiwan's Tatung University, who
works on the development of RFID tag antennas, told AIT/T
that the costs have already dropped below USD 0.25 per tag
and would fall to USD 0.05 within two years.
5. (U) Closed systems, on the other hand, can operate with
unique standards and less concern about the tag costs.
This kind of system includes medical records and supply
management in hospitals and other healthcare facilities;
security systems, such as port container security programs;
mobile payment systems for toll roads, public
transportation and similar services. Tags can frequently
be reused in these types of closed systems and are
generally used in more limited quantities. Because the
costs of the tags are less important, some Taiwan firms are
already making money by providing components for this kind
of system.
...and Three Products
6. (U) Any kind of RFID system has three basic components
-- tags, readers and systems. Taiwan firms have already
identified the manufacture of tags and to a lesser extent
readers as the areas where they can compete
internationally. Because the tags basically consist of a
chip attached to an antenna, Taiwan's powerful
semiconductor manufacturing industry gives it an advantage
in that area. However, Taiwan firms have all but abandoned
ambitions to provide integrated systems. Although Taiwan
firms might manufacture the computers and servers that are
key components, they assume that firms like IBM, Microsoft
and HP will dominate the industry in designing and
marketing integrated systems.
Future Potential
7. (U) Taiwan already has a good start in the RFID tag
market. ITRI predicted last year that 2004 production of
tags and readers by Taiwan firms would reach NT$ 5 billion
(over USD 150 million). According to a study by the
International Data Corporation, the annual growth rate for
the RFID industry will reach 73 percent for the next four
years. In 2008, the global market for tags would reach USD
5.6 billion with as much as half produced by Taiwan firms.
The study predicts the market for readers will total USD
4.8 billion and USD 9.6 billion for integrated systems.
However, Taiwan firms are likely to claim only one percent
of the systems market.
8. (SBU) Taiwan's lack of competitiveness in the systems
market is already apparent in the domestic market. The key
players in the emerging RFID systems market are local firms
acting as the agents for U.S. companies. Fortune
Information Systems Co., which claims a customer base with
more than NT$ 100 billion (USD 3.2 billion) in sales,
provides systems produced by SSA Global, a U.S. firm.
Ascent Technology is an agent of the U.S. firm Savi
Technology Inc., which provides port security RFID
technology to Kaohsiung Harbor.
Comment - Moving Beyond Tags
9. (SBU) Taiwan firms are well placed to capture a large
share of the global RFID tag market and will probably also
be quite competitive in reader production as the RFID
industry expands. The island's expertise in using original
equipment manufacturing (OEM) and original design
manufacturing (ODM) manufacturing models to reduce costs as
well as its strong foundation in information technology,
communications equipment, and semiconductor manufacturing
will be a key advantage. However, tag and reader
manufacturing may not offer Taiwan much in stimulating
sustained economic growth. Price pressures will keep RFID
tag manufacturing margins razor thin. This is exactly the
kind of low margin production that is already moving
wholesale to Mainland China causing fears of "hollowing-
out" and "marginalization" of the Taiwan economy. Taiwan
businesses and economic policy makers should seek to expand
Taiwan's potential to capture more of the systems
integration market for the RFID industry. This is the kind
of "knowledge-based" industry that Taiwan seeks to
encourage and that will allow it to advance economically as
manufacturing moves increasingly to low wage countries like
the PRC. End comment.
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