CTIA Endorses 2D Barcodes

dmcodeToday the CTIA announced a “Camera-Phone Based Barcode Scanning White Paper” (PDF) at the morning keynote. There was a demonstration of scanning a bar code with a camera phone to launch a video on the handset.

The white paper describes a somewhat complicated indirect access architecture where the code scanning application sends an identifier to a central “Clearing House” which routes it to a “Campaign Manager” associated with a particular service.  The Campaign Manager then sends a message to the handset application directing it to perform an action such as opening a mobile site in the browser, adding a contact to the address book or a date to the calendar or pre-populating an SMS, email or phone call.

The layered architecture seems to be designed to let the carriers control and monetize the process.  The white paper also talks about providing subscriber demographic information to campaigns including age, zip code, gender, household income!, date/time and handset make and model.  Information would only provided when “technically, ethically and legally possible”.

The paper essentially endorses two bar code formats; the open standard Data Matrix (image, above) and  proprietary EZ Code.

In an interview, CTIA Vice-President of Wireless Internet Development Mark Desautels predicted that shipping handsets using the technology will be widely available in 12-18 months.

I’m excited that the US mobile industry sees the value of 2D bar code technology which is already well proven in Asia and that at least one of the supported codes is based on an open standard.  I’m disappointed however that they feel the need to monetize the process beyond the added SMS, call and data traffic it would naturally generate.  I suspect that the layered architecture will also introduce unnecessary latency into the process compared with the direct access model used in Japan.  There are also the obvious privacy issues associated with sharing so much demographic information with bar code campaigns.

What do you think? Comments are open.

Related Post: QR Codes

16 thoughts on “CTIA Endorses 2D Barcodes

  1. “It is fairly obvious that this paper was written to limit the players in the field to 1.”

    Perhaps it would not be a bad idea to have an experienced antitrust lawyer read that paper.

  2. As I said in some other blogs, everyone forgets and/or is not aware for the real effort of having an open-standard for Q3 2009, for 2D Barcodes. It will include Indirect as well as Direct Barcodes.
    OMA is the SDO starting the standardization at the moment.

  3. Clay,

    I’m sure Scanbuy would be only too happy to license their technology to anyone willing to pay :)

    To me it’s an inappropriate conflict of interest for a vendor to participate on a team defining a technical standard and then have that vendor’s solution is selected as a required element of that standard. clear conflict of interest.

    Tou are right that carriers don’t want us to actually use our un-limited data plans. But they do want us to buy them with the incentive of saving money vs. the obscene rates they charge for à la carte data – including data driven by bar codes.

  4. It is fairly obvious that this paper was written to limit the players in the field to 1. Since the readers have to be able to read EZ Code and it is proprietary to ScanBuy, they are the only company that can make a reader. this comes as no surprise since ScanBuy was on the committee that wrote this “spec”. What comes to mind is what would the browser world look like if Microsoft was the only browser supplier on a team to spec out what browsers would be allowed on PC’s. IMHO it seems that this was clearly an attempt to lock out other players, since some members of the committee were clearly aware of other major players in the space (i.e. NeoMedia, Mobile Data Systems, etc. ) and choose not to solicit any input from them.

    By the way the notion that the carriers want people using data so they make money is not exactly correct. I have been told directly by upper managment types in the carriers that what they really want is people to subscribe to an unlimited data plan then NOT use it. They are really afraid that people will start using the data heavily and overloading the network.

  5. @Dennis

    I am picky.

    With the rest of the world moving towards QR Codes — the US will be the odd man out.

    Facilitating a single company with their proprietary code format was not enough, CTIA further leaned in that companies favor by supporting the “open” format least in favor by their competitors and other “free”, grassroots services.

    QR Code is also the stronger format for a number of reasons including the code’s ability to store more data then EZ or Data Matrix (…but obviously if you go the indirect model you don’t need to store more data as everything is going through a clearing house.)

    David Harper

  6. Well put, Dean

    There might be a ray of hope, I ran into one of the members of the team that created the White Paper at CTIA and I complained about the lack of support for direct access He replied that it was under consideration to be included as well.

    We will see – although I’m not optimistic.

    To me it’s the indirect model, not the code format that is the real problem. While I have no use for proprietary codes like EZ, Data Matrix is a ISO open standard free of any royalty and licensing requirements just like QR.

    I’m not picky. As long as we get an open encoding standard and the ability to create codes that go direct to a URL, add a vCard or initiate a phone call or SMS without having to deal with the carrier bureaucracy I’ll be happy.

  7. @brewskih

    Thanks for correcting me on a few details — and for making some great points.

    re: “that the reader software will be able to decode direct model codes as well, such as those with an URL or a phone number to dial etc.”

    They don’t actually say that. They only talk in terms of direct for phone number – they specifically do not mention direct URL. (bottom of pg 15 to top of page 16). They also show Data Matrix going through the clearing house as well — see the diagrams and such.

    Who can we ask to clarify?


    The QR Code on your blog post (http://deancollinsblog.blogspot.com/2008/09/ctiacodescanactionteamwhite-paper.html) with embedded message for the CTIA – the ScanBuy reader can’t decipher it. :)

    David Harper

  8. Well I’ve posted my response with all the deference this white paper deserves.

    After 2 years of lobbying and hidden agendas with lots of committees and discussions this is what they come out with, they should have titled it…”We’re carriers looking out for ourselves and all you advertisers and consumers better bend over and touch your toes”.

    Someone at CTIA either took a bribe or failed an IQ test if they think this is going to work.

    This is paper is fubar and will die a stillborn death.

    Basically all you QR code people go about your business, keep implementing really cool campaigns with no hidden charges, license fees or ‘carrier taxes’ on your creativity.

    Ignore all the scummy scanbuy/neomedia/ctia cohorts with their closed mobile carrier mentality and taxes and charges. The world has already passed proprietary closed systems by, they had their shot 4 years ago and they blew it.

    Dean Collins

  9. David,

    I finally got around to reading the entire white paper. And although it focus’ on the indirect model, they also mention that the reader software will be able to decode direct model codes as well, such as those with an URL or a phone number to dial etc.

    Of course they focus on the indirect revenue generating model to encourage operators and carriers to get on board so mass adoption can occur sooner rather then later.

    I do not think they are going to wait until mid 2009 however. Thats when they hope to have all the elements in place, but it appears they are going forward with the EZ-CODES at this time, since they already have a campaign manager for them. I wonder who that could be?

    The white paper also states the reader will be available second half of 2008 and MUST be able to read EZ-Code as well as Data Matrix. I wonder what reader can read those two codes at this time?

    And to think that Scanbuy comes out of these trials smelling like a rose, when some other companies CEO was supposed to be on the Scan Action Team. I never thought when Scanbuy announced a while back they would be working with at least 5 carriers in the near term, that it was a CTIA initiated trial that made it all happen. Where are those dot connectors when you need them?

    As for Streetstylz question about the neomedia patents, maybe he should wait to ask that until they win the re-exam first. It appears they made face to face arguments with the examiner just before submitting their new claims, and the examiner rejected their arguments during that face to face meeting that occurred in August. Of course they submitted the new amendments anyhow for consideration, since there was a deadline looming, but it does not look too promising. The information about the face to face and the examiners comments are all on the USPTO web site.

  10. The good news pointed out to me by someone (i’m mostly paraphrasing here) is that this is just not something that can succeed. The CTIA roadmap talks about finalizing this in July 2009, which seems a bit late to start. By that time people will have decent readers on Blackberrys, iPhone and Android, and most of those are going to do QR Code and Data Matrix and not have any idea about the CTIA central registry.

    David Harper

  11. @streetstylz

    Nothing misguided. My comments are directed towards two entities that hurt “openness” and free competition.

    …and i’m not angry with “you” as an individual – you’re only annoying.

    David Harper

  12. @David

    Whoa, don’t shoot the messenger!

    You anger is misguided …….. CTIA is the one who decided to adopt a proprietary 2D barcode symbology and indirect encoding for both Data Matrix and EZcodes.

    I was just wondering where NeoMedia’s patents fit into the overall scheme of things.

    BTW, I have a feeling NeoMedia’s patent will be just fine.


  13. Dear Nameless “CTIA Wireless Internet Caucus Code Scan Action Team” Members

    WTF are you thinking?

    Support for an inferior, proprietary, and closed code format controlled by a few.

    Indirect access though closed gateways rather then direct URLs resolved by DNS.

    Lack of support for the open, standard, and IMHO superior QR Code format — used worldwide with great success.

    I’m disappointed that another walled garden is so easily going up.

    …and ready to start tearing it down.

    David Harper
    Founder & CEO, Winksite

  14. @streetstylz

    Every time a post mentioning 2D codes goes up on the web you or one of the other frustrated NeoMedia shareholders pop in with the same tired comments about the NeoMedia patent.

    Which incidentally is in the process of being over turned by effort of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

    Maybe just once one of you guys could step away from your obsessive, self-centered greed and think about supporting an open marketplace where anyone with an idea could have a chance to flourish.

    Oh, how silly of me. What was i thinking?

  15. Hi Dennis,

    I am curious where NeoMedia Technologies fits into the overall picture here?

    Indirect encoding (patented by NeoMedia) is the process of linking the target information to an index (364528 for example) and putting that unique identifier into a 1D UPC/EAN or 2D barcode. The code reader on the mobile phone reads the barcode and sends the code data over the Internet to a central resolution server that will tell the mobile phone what action is associated with the index, i.e. access a URL, download media, initiate a phone call, ect.

    NeoMedia Technologies has a suite of twelve issued patents covering the core concepts behind linking the physical world to the electronic world dating back to 1995. These patents cover various linkage methods including: Barcodes, RFID, Mag Stripe, Voice, and Other machine readable and keyed entry identifiers.


    Looking forward to your reply.

    Thanks & best regards,

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