The continued expansion of IoT devices raises some sustainability issues related to the batteries that power them. That’s where Ultra High Frequency (UHF) RFID technologies, such as the approach taken by the RAIN RFID Alliance, come in.

In 2014, Google, Impinj, Intel, and Smartrac formed RAIN RFID, an industry alliance dedicated to promoting the international adoption of UHF RFID. The name RAIN, which stands for RAdio-frequency IdentificatioN, symbolizes the synergy between UHF RFID and the cloud as well as the ubiquity of UHF RFID tags and applications.

To support a new phase of growth, the RAIN Alliance has appointed Aileen Ryan as its new president and CEO, succeeding Steve Halliday. EE Times Europe engaged in a conversation with Ryan to better understand her vision and expansion strategy.

Prior to joining the RAIN Alliance, Ryan held a leadership position at Siemens and was actively involved in the strategic acquisition of UltraSoC Technologies where she held the dual role of Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Operating Officer. She is active within the startup community in the U.K., serves as a mentor on the Cambridge Judge Business School MBA program, and as an advisor for Cambridge Deep Tech Labs and a number of UKRI programs.

EE Times Europe: Any new president brings fresh perspectives and ideas. What is your view on the industry in general and on the eight years of existence of the RAIN Alliance? 

Aileen Ryan Rain Alliance President
RAIN Alliance‘s Aileen Ryan

Aileen Ryan: The cultural and societal changes ushered in as a response to the pandemic have laid the foundations for acceptance and desire for increased digital transformation and connectivity in all aspects of our lives. The last 2.5 years have demonstrated that the companies who have a better understanding and control of their supply chain have outperformed their peers. As a result, I believe this industry stands on the cusp of massive opportunity – I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe that!

RAIN technology has excellent adoption rates in some sectors, like retail, and the lessons learned there can be leveraged to move rapidly into other sectors – automotive and healthcare to name two.

My experience running not just for-profit commercial organizations but also a large not-for-profit membership entity means that I’ve got a unique perspective on the similarities and differences between the two. My professional background also spans the full technical stack – from the semiconductors right up to software, and my focus is on the value derived from the use cases enabled by the data produced by the RAIN technology and how this value flows to all the various stakeholder members of the Alliance.

I recently attended my first RAIN Alliance event and I was hugely impressed with the refreshingly high levels of collaboration, camaraderie, and commitment amongst the members of this community. This is the fundamental and very powerful strength that I see here – a desire to work together to grow the adoption of RAIN technology and thereby increasing the commercial opportunity for all the members.

EE Times Europe: How do you plan to accelerate the adoption of RAIN RFID technology? Can you detail your strategy and outline your main goals?

Ryan: The key thing for me initially is to clearly articulate the business benefits of RAIN adoption in language that is sector-appropriate and speaks to the “persona” who benefits from the use case.

For example, inventory management has been the leading use case for in-store retail applications, but now we see the retail use case extending to include loss prevention and omnichannel services such as self-checkout. Logistics and Transportation service operators are looking for opportunities to automate and streamline operations. Automotive and Aerospace industries are looking to RAIN to increase the levels of automation in their manufacturing process, amongst other things. So even within the same market sector, there are different potential beneficiaries of the value of RAIN deployments.

This is classic “Market Development” in strategy terms – leveraging existing products and technologies into new markets – and the key is to find the “persona” who gets the most value from the use case and clearly show them how the technology benefits them.

VDC Research is about to publish a new market research report on global markets and applications for RAIN RFID, and that will contain excellent data so that we can focus on the best market opportunities on behalf of our members.

EE Times Europe: How will your past experiences in software and hardware help you achieve your vision?

Ryan: As you point out, I do have experience in both software and hardware and full-technical-stack solutions. I also have experience in different types of roles – from corporate strategy to operations, in both large and small companies, in different parts of the world, and spanning both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. As such, I can understand the concerns of our diverse member stakeholders – I have worn their shoes in a sense – as well as the dynamics of this rapidly growing market, and I hope to be able to help our members be poised for success.

EE Times Europe: Tag chip sales have increased every year since 2015. The global value of the RAIN market, including tag ICs, inlays, labels, reader ICs and modules, readers, and printers/encoders, was US$2.2 billion in 2019 and is expected to exceed US$5.1 billion by 2024. What could be the trigger that makes sales explode? 

Ryan: I don’t think there’s any one single trigger.

Instead, the VDC Research report will show that there’s a proliferation of new use cases in existing and new markets that can be uniquely addressed using RAIN RFID. Sustainability – minimizing carbon emissions and waste – is a high and increasing priority for supply chain initiatives across most industries, and RAIN has a significant role to play there.

Some of the use cases will necessitate product development like more diverse inlay options, and of course sustainability of the RAIN technology itself is something that will see investment. So in a sense, the rising tide of market development will provide opportunity for all RAIN Alliance members.

EE Times Europe: The RAIN Alliance now has 160 members. How do you plan to best serve the members and to grow the membership? 

Ryan: In my experience, an industry alliance like this one serves its members best by doing 3 things:

  • Shining a light on market opportunities (for example, new use cases and/or new market sectors)
  • Eliminating any barriers to adoption, maximizing interoperability, minimizing any technical friction
  • Providing an excellent environment for members to connect, create partnerships, and collaborate

If we do these things well, other industry players will be attracted to become members, thereby creating a virtuous circle where more resources come to the table and important topics are discussed and significant decisions are made to help us all move more rapidly.

EE Times Europe: The Alliance’s latest market research report forecasts approximately 35 billion tag chips by 2022 (20% increase over 2021). Yet, in May, your predecessor Steve Halliday told EE Times Europe, “This was before the global chip shortage was recognized. We now expect the increase to be much lower in 2022, with another big leap in 2023 as chips become available again.” As we approach the end of the year, do you have a clearer picture of the market for the year 2022? What are your thoughts for 2023? Will the chip shortage continue to affect the market? Or are we moving toward more supply chain visibility? If not, how to counterbalance the impact?

Ryan: In fact, the new VDC report which is just about to be published shows that RAIN RFID tag IC shipments reached 28.9 billion in 2021, representing a 36% increase over 2020, and a CAGR of over 25% is projected to 2026 – in other words, the impact of the global chip shortage has been less than we may have originally anticipated.

Over the past 24 months, demand for RAIN RFID ICs with more advanced technology profiles/capabilities – for example the ability to withstand high-temperature washing and painting processes in automotive operations – has diversified RAIN RFID IC requirements, especially in support of more specialized applications. As applications continue to proliferate, demand for a more diverse portfolio of ICs will emerge to address emerging applications.

A challenge, however, that will likely persist through 2022 and some of 2023 is demand fulfillment with potentially as much as 30% of demand going unfulfilled. While it is expected that much of this demand will still be realized, it is prolonging investment and deployment timeframes and challenging organization’s investment strategies.