This article was originally published Dec. 16, 2004, and was updated Feb. 8, 2016.
This may or may not be the first time you hear about RFID -- or radio frequency identification. This will definitely not be the last time. When I originally wrote this article in 2004, RFID was gaining ground as a tracking technology that was just starting to become popular as a result of certain government and retailer initiatives. At the time, we covered some of the interesting companies in the business of printing RFID tags. Just one simple click can take you back to 2004 to see what we had to say back then.
Go ahead. I'll still be here when you're done.
See? I told you that I would still be here.
A lot has changed in that time. RFID has gone mainstream. Disney (NYSE: DIS ) made a reported $1 billion bet on MyMagic+ technology, and every time that you see folks at Disney World donning MagicBand bracelets to enter the theme parks, gain access to expedited FastPass queues, or tie in-park purchases to their resort charging accounts, you are seeing RFID in action.
There are many other companies beyond Disney looking for their slice of the RFID pie. From the server and database giants that will do brisk business as RFID ups the breadth of information storage and processing to the retail chains that will benefit from the inventory control wonders of supply chain management, there are a lot of blue chips that are bound to get chipper and bellwethers worth polishing as the RFID revolution blazes through.
So let's take a closer look at three companies in this booming space that aren't gargantuan-sized companies. Let's see some of the small- and medium-sized companies applying the technology in promising and potentially lucrative ways.
Roper Technologies (NYSE: ROP ) -- Roper commands a meaty market cap north of $16 billion, but since it's not a household name it's probably worth mentioning here. Roper makes a wide array of products including water meters, energy pump testers, and medical imaging equipment.
However, another thing that Roper makes is RFID equipment used at tollbooths to facilitate the reading of prepaid express passes. This is naturally a booming market. The days of bypassing tolls are long gone as cars are scanned through tollbooths, and the fact that RFID technology requires fewer tollbooth operators is gravy to controlling costs. This is just a small part of Roper's business, but it's worth mentioning.
Zebra Technologies (NASDAQ: ZBRA ) -- Using RFID to track inventory is made easier through Zebra's solutions. It offers mobile and handheld readers as well as fixed readers. It also makes reader antennas to send data across various points of business activity.
Zebra is also a leading distributor of RFID printers that allow businesses to encode and print out the RFID-backed labels that can be tracked with its readers.
Gaming Partners (NASDAQ: GPIC ) -- The only one of the three companies that I originally singled out in 2004 that's still publicly traded as the same entity is Gaming Partners. The company makes gaming equipment, and that included at the time a thriving business embedding RFID microchips in casino chips to facilitate immediate inventory tallies and prevent counterfeit currency. It continues to offer RFID readers for cage, table, and vault applications as well as RFID technologies for casino readers.
Gaming Partners remains a small company, but it's holding up well. Revenue has inched higher in four of the past five years, and it's been consistently profitable along the way.
RFID isn't just a gamble. It's real, and the stakes are high. Identifying worthy players in disruptive technologies is what our Rule Breakers newsletter aims to achieve. And yes, there is still time to sign up for a free trial.