Posted by Lori Ayre on May 2, 2013

"ISO tags" can mean a lot of different things. For a long time, when vendors said they had "ISO tags," they meant that the tags comply with ISO-15693 which is a standard that applies to the physical tag itself. That was okay for awhile but now what we are looking for in the physical tag is compliance with ISO 18000-3, Mode 1.  

The reason it is important to specify ISO 18000-3, Mode 1 is because of the Application Family Identifier (AFI).  This is a special register on the tag.  It isn't a field that contains data - I'm not addressing content on the tag in this post.  The AFI register is a special feature of the tag separate from the data elements and the chip itself.  

So, this AFI register is what the ISO 28560 compliant tag uses for security. And security is more broadly defined than you might think.  The AFI, when used properly, indicates that the item to which it is affixed is either a "circulating library item" or a "non-circulating library item."  So, not only does it tell your library security gates to alarm when it sees a noncirculating library item leaving the building, it also ensures that security gates at Kohl's ignore your library books.  Similarly, when someone walks into your library with an item tagged with an ISO 18000-3 tag (and there are lots of other industries that use them), it ensures that your gates don't alarm.  

Each industry has their own set of hexadecimal codes for identifying their "family" so its not as simple as YES and NO or 0 and 1. Our special library codes are C2 and O7 so our security gates only care about items that pass by with one of those two codes (in an ISO 28560 compliant world anyway).

So, if you have ISO 15693 tags, but not ISO 18000-3, Mode 1 tags, you won't have an AFI option.  You're probably stuck with using a different security system that uses that YES/NO approach.  That technology is called EAS.

Funny things can happen with you don't use AFI for security, especially as RFID applications proliferate.  For example, let's say your library is located in a place with ski areas.  Some ski areas are starting to use RFID tags. I am aware of one library that learned the hard way why AFI security is better than EAS security when suddenly all of the ski vacationers coming into their library to use the Internet were setting off the security gates.  Because the library was using a simple YES/NO EAS-based security system on their ISO 15693 tags and it happened to coincide with the local ski areas decision to use ISO 15693 tags on their ski passes, it wreaked all sorts of havoc for the library.

So, the morale of the story is to make sure you purchase ISO 18000-3, Mode 1 tags and make sure your vendor is using that AFI register properly.




[Photo Source: RFID Journal, "RFID for Small Ski Resorts",]