RFID Journal Live 2023

From the standpoint of both applications and economics, Bluetooth Low Energy and RAIN RFID technologies are rapidly converging.

In short, that’s our key takeaway from the RFID Journal Live 2023 exhibition floor in Orlando last week.

Bluetooth Low Energy and RAIN RFID are both AIDC (Automatic Identification and Data Capture) technologies, and, perhaps fittingly, the AIDC industry was celebrating its 50th anniversary (AIM50) at this year’s conference. The core difference between the two is that the former is an active technology (beacons spontaneously transmit their identifier using self-sourced energy) and the latter is a passive technology (tags backscatter their identifier using energy supplied by readers). Historically, this difference has maintained a clear division in their real-world applications.

So what has changed? In this blog post we’ll examine three factors: costs, and sensing & real-time location capabilities.


When we founded reelyActive in 2012, active RFID tags (including the ones we developed) cost tens of dollars each while passive RFID tags were well under one dollar each. Economics clearly separated the applications of active and passive RFID technologies.

At this year’s conference, we congratulated the InPlay team in person on their contribution to the advent of the $1 Bluetooth Low Energy tag: at the time of writing, anyone can purchase their innovative IN100 IC for $0.40 each on DigiKey in a reel of 5,000 PCS!

reelyActive meets Reelables at RFID Journal Live 2023

And, at their booth, we discovered Reelables (of course we reely love the name!) which use that IC to offer printed Bluetooth Low Energy tags for logistics and supply chain in a form factor and process identical to that of passive tags. It’s not difficult to imagine the market gap that can fill, especially given the price advantage of Bluetooth Low Energy infrastructure, which may already be present, as we explained in our recent Infrastructure 4.0 post!

Speaking of infrastructure costs, the passive gap is narrowing too: at the conference we picked up a Chafon CF600 USB RAIN RFID reader for less than we’ve paid for some Bluetooth dongles!

Sensing Capabilities

The ability to sense environmental (temperature, humidity, etc.) and other factors has typically been the realm of active RFID technologies, given the cost and energy requirements of the sensors themselves. That is changing fast. At this year’s conference we saw examples from a number of RAIN RFID vendors, and even picked up samples using ASYGN’s AS321X IC which supports a variety of internal and external sensors.

RFID LED Labels at RFID Journal Live 2023

We were impressed too with live demos of RAIN RFID tags sporting LED tags that can be illuminated by reading a dummy address on the tag. For instance, the EDISON line of tags from Shanghai ReadFind IoT is sufficiently economical to imagine tagging individual folders, bins, or other containers throughout a facility, facilitating picking and replenishment by a human operator, saving time and avoiding mistakes locating the right item: it blinks!

RTLS Capabilities

Continuing on the theme of location, real-time location systems (RTLS), which facilitate the location of individual tags within a physical space or facility, have typically been the realm of active RFID technologies. That too is changing fast!

RF Controls RTLS & Pareto Anywhere open source middleware at the ESG-UQAM GreenUXLab

Since the 2022 conference, we’ve had the occasion to integrate our open source middleware with RF Controls’ RTLS technology for RAIN RFID on a number of client deployments, and to see for ourselves just how well their technology delivers to promise! Especially in high-ceiling environments, where their Smart Antennas shine, the value proposition and ROI for item-level tracking is unmatched, with performance rivalling Bluetooth Low Energy systems based on angle-of-arrival. Yes, passive RTLS!

It’s all AIDC

When reelyActive first attended RFID Journal Live in 2013, the RAIN RFID Alliance had yet to form, and Bluetooth Low Energy had yet to assume its place as a global standard for active RFID. Now, a decade later, we might argue that the need to explicitly distinguish between the two—or between active and passive RFID technologies altogether for that matter—may be more about technicality than practicality. 50-years on, AIDC is still AIDC, and for most end users, “labels that you can automatically identify, count and locate” surely resonates better than RFID, RTLS, BLE, RAIN or any other acronym we use in this industry!

And for that reason, we’re as proud as ever to be abstracting away those acronyms from end users (and integrators), fostering interoperability across vendors and technologies with our open source Pareto Anywhere middleware that simply provides real-time digital context: “who/what is where/how.”

Infrastructure 4.0

This week HPE Aruba Networking announced, in this press release, their collaboration with Microsoft and ourselves, reelyActive, to facilitate migrating IoT workloads to the cloud.

And while that announcement may be modestly titled, the implication for infrastructure interoperability in the Internet of Things (IoT) is anything but! In fact, we’re prepared to argue that in our IoT timeline, starting from the founding of reelyActive in 2012, this represents the beginning of the Infrastructure 4.0 era. And in this blog post, we’ll explain why, starting from square “1.0”.

Silo 1.0

In the beginning there were silos. ⬆️ IoT devices—the overwhelming majority of which require gateway infrastructure to connect/communicate with IP networks and the Internet—often required the installation of infrastructure to fulfil but a single purpose. In other words, a dedicated set of hardware infrastructure and devices for each application, i.e. parallel infrastructure for parallel applications.

But silos do not an Internet of Things make…

Reel 2.0

Shit just got reel. 🙄 Yes, we played on that meme when we founded reelyActive to solve the infrastructure problem, initially for real-time location systems (RTLS), with the introduction of our novel reel architecture, which, in 2013, we openly published in a scientific article Towards a simple, versatile, distributed low-power wireless M2M infrastructure. The idea was simple: a single power-and-communication standard over ubiquitous network cables allowed the daisy-chaining of “reelceiver” gateways that could each communicate with IoT devices over a specific radio protocol.

A single infrastructure for both sub-GHz and Bluetooth Low Energy? No problem, as we demonstrated in 2013.

A building-wide infrastructure to not only relay every Bluetooth Low Energy packet to the cloud for any purpose, but also facilitating blue-dot mobile indoor positioning? No problem, as we demonstrated in 2018.

Silos no more! And then the proverbial light bulb went off…

Lighting 3.0

Enter the Enlightenment (or not). 💡 Why go through the trouble of adding infrastructure when there’s already ubiquitous infrastructure throughout physical spaces: electric light!?! By about 2016, we were engaging in serious conversations with the VPs of IoT from Philips/Signify and Acuity Brands, who, like us, were reflecting on just that. And while, ultimately, those key industry players did not pursue the opportunity, we were delighted (pun intended) to collaborate with Lunera Lighting, a challenger prepared to go all-in on ambient computing, in what would effectively be for them a make-or-break bid.

In our Light hears ahead of its time blog post, we argued that connected lighting infrastructure could, at the literal flip-of-a-switch, enable building-wide IoT. Indeed, the Infrastructure 3.0 era was bright with promise…until the lights went out at Lunera the following year.

Why not find another option then…

Access Point 4.0

Delight in WiFi’s evolution. 🛜 Would you rather spend a day in the dark or a day without WiFi? Yes, that’s a rhetorical question to underscore the near-ubiquity of another infrastructure, WiFi, which, unlike standard lighting, inherently benefits from Internet-connectivity. Of course, only a fraction of IoT devices are WiFi-capable, but it turns out that it’s easy enough to add a Bluetooth Low Energy radio to an access point (AP). And vendors have had the foresight for years to do exactly that, extending their APs’ connectivity capabilities beyond IP devices to accommodate low-power-wireless IoT devices too.

So why then do we believe that the Infrastructure 4.0 era begins only now?

The simplicity and scalability that this collaboration enshrines is what finally marks the start of the Infrastructure 4.0 era.


With just a few clicks, an organisation can relay, securely and continuously, the data stream from the IoT devices in their physical spaces, to Microsoft Azure, a cloud platform with which they are likely already familiar. Aruba IoT Transport for Azure introduced this functionality two years ago, and now with the addition of our open source data converter, Pareto Anywhere for Azure, the data is rendered intelligible—regardless of the underlying IoT devices and technologies—and can be put to use immediately.

For the average organisation, there’s little to think about: it just works.


Thanks to foresight, infrastructure is already present at scale, globally and across verticals:

Roughly 35 million of the Aruba APs already deployed are capable of migrating IoT workloads to the cloud today.

Mike Tennefoss, VP of IoT and Strategic Partnerships at Aruba

Moreover, tens of billions of Bluetooth Low Energy IoT devices have shipped over the past decade alone, with over 5 billion now shipping annually. And our open source advlib libraries, at the core of our Pareto Anywhere middleware, ensure that the data from each and every one is converted into a standard format, regardless of vendor or model, or whether running cloud or edge.

For the average organisation, everything is already in place and ready to scale at any pace.

The Infrastructure 4.0 Era

You don’t have an Internet without infrastructure, nor do you have an Internet of Things without infrastructure. That’s why our collaboration with HPE Aruba Networking and Microsoft is arguably the biggest step forward for the Internet of Things in our decade-long history: infrastructure now meets interoperability at a massive scale—free from artificial constraints. Enter the Infrastructure 4.0 era!

2023: Year of interoperability?

One of our first major client successes of 2023 involves writing temperature sensor data to a database.

Ummm, okay? Whether you’re familiar with the state of the art of technology or not, you’re probably questioning why something as basic as writing temperature sensor readings to a database is considered a major success—let alone worthy of a blog post?

In a word: interoperability.

Sure, there are countless vendors eager to sell you a turnkey temperature data collection system, including the sensors, the gateways, the software (as-a-service), the database and the interface. How convenient! However, what if you decided you’d prefer to:

  • choose the wireless temperature sensor best suited to your needs
  • insist on using the gateway infrastructure already installed in your facility
  • write the data to an existing database that’s familiar to your organisation
  • and run/host the solution on-premises

Well, in that case, good luck piecing the solution together yourself, or finding an integrator who will build you a custom solution. And then, best of luck keeping that one-off solution operational over its expected lifespan!

That is unless you could rely on interoperability among all those interchangeable elements. And that is exactly what this client was able to do, which makes this a success story worthy of the blog post you’re reading.

How that interoperability was achieved is a long story. In 2015 we first developed and published (at the 2nd IEEE World Forum on IoT) our advlib library which interprets Bluetooth Low Energy packets from devices—such as temperature sensors—and outputs this ambient data in a web-standard way. Since then, it has evolved to support countless devices and additional radio technologies. Fostering interoperability with existing in-building gateway infrastructure followed progressively, first with connected lighting and more recently with WiFi access points, starting with those of Aruba Networks. Today, our open source Pareto Anywhere middleware enshrines interoperability across the hardware devices and infrastructure, making the final step of writing the web-standard data to any database as simple as appending the corresponding open source connector module.

In other words, in this case writing temperature sensor readings to a database is special because it is achieved by seamlessly layering horizontally-oriented platforms from multiple vendors, rather than adopting the vertically-oriented platform of a single vendor. And the distinction between the two approaches becomes even clearer as the client extends the solution across their organisation: that interoperability allows them to pursue opportunities as they arise, rather than having to limit themselves to the inherently constrained feature set of a single vertically-oriented platform.

Vertical vs. horizontal platform opportunities

Will 2023 finally be the year of interoperability? In fact, it already is for forward-looking organisations advancing towards the horizon.

RFID Journal Live 2022

When we first attended RFID Journal Live in 2013, reelyActive was not even a year old, and yet we proudly showed off the innovative real-time location system (RTLS) that we had rapidly developed based on our own proprietary active RFID (radio-frequency identification) hardware and reel technology. Back then, we were solving a hardware problem: offering hardware that was simple and accessible enough for any motivated developer to assemble into a solution.

Last week we attended RFID Journal Live 2022 and the co-hosted IEEE RFID conference on the eve of our tenth anniversary, and we proudly argued, in the tutorial that we presented, that RFID has become ambient data, with over 100 billion standard, radio-identifiable devices present throughout the spaces in which we live, work and play. Today we are solving a middleware problem: facilitating interoperability across vendors and technologies so that any motivated developer can assemble off-the-shelf parts into a solution.

Why did we transform from a proprietary hardware company to the stewards of the only open source middleware for context-aware physical spaces? In a word, standards.

Opening slide from our IEEE Internet of People 2017 conference presentation

In 2014 emerged three key standards:

  • a long-range passive RFID standard with the founding of the RAIN Alliance
  • a de facto active RFID standard with Bluetooth Low Energy exceeding 1 Billion annual device shipments
  • linked, structured data (for digital twins) with JSON-LD becoming an official Web Standard

Since then there have been over 112 billion RAIN RFID tags produced and there are currently 5 billion Bluetooth Low Energy devices shipping annually. The problem of standard, accessible hardware is very much solved: we can identify and locate 100 billion+ “things” across the planet! Moreover, with Google embracing JSON-LD and Schema.org to represent anything as machine-readable data, all those things can be associated with web-standard digital twins!

So what’s the problem? In a word, interoperability. Discussions about overcoming the challenges of interoperability could be heard on both the industry and research sides of the 2022 conference, especially in the latter. And that is why the Pareto Anywhere open source middleware that we’ve been developing and continuously improving for years is so relevant: it enshrines interoperability as an open technology architecture. And in the era of walled gardens, Pareto Anywhere remains in a class of its own!

Today, our optimism for an open, interoperable Internet of Things has been renewed. Not only are vendors and researchers discussing the issue, things (no pun intended) are actually changing! This month alone, we’ve integrated with Wiliot (as we hinted we would at RFID Journal Live 2018) and have no fewer than 4 integrations with supportive RAIN vendors/technologies in the works, the first having already been validated end-to-end!

Incredibly, it took 8 years since the three standards independently emerged for us to be able to demonstrate them all working together harmoniously!

We’re glad to finally achieve that milestone—and arguably the first to openly do so—which is symbolic as this RFID Journal Live may well be our last. The industry conference, which celebrated 20 years, has largely fulfilled its mandate of connecting the vendors and prospective users of an emerging technology which is now well established. Instead, we’ll be keeping pace with the next wave of innovation coming from the IEEE RFID conference, with passive BLE and universal web resolvers for digital twins among the many research topics shaping the future of ubiquitous machine-contextual awareness.

See you at IEEE RFID 2023, and, for the usual suspects, expect a live performance of “As Long as you Read Me” by the Backscatter Boys.