Successful RFID trials at Tesco have taken the retail giant one step closer to a fully enabled system across Northern Ireland, it emerged this week.

RFID trials at Tesco's dry goods depot in Antrim last weekend would lead to a full-blown operational trial, said Peter Shuttleworth, Tesco radio barcode business systems manager.

"The trial went very well," said Shuttleworth, at the 5th Annual Global RFID ROI Summit 2007 on Monday. "We got a very positive set of results."

Over a four-hour period, 17,000 cages passed through portals equipped with RFID readers at the Antrim depot. Shuttleworth said the portal readers had an "encouraging" 99.96% success rate, but Tesco was looking for 100% accuracy.

An eight-week trial at Antrim has now been scheduled for March. In addition, a full operational test to track tags from depot to store will take place this month. If these trials are successful, RFID will move into Tesco's Belfast fresh depot before more work is done to roll out the system across Northern Ireland.

"Fresh food is where the benefit lies," said Shuttleworth. "There is an opportunity to improve availability and produce better service levels for customers. We have proved already it can make operations simpler for staff. Reducing cost is key to Tesco and we can do that by reducing wastage, shrinkage and the amount of stock holding in stores [through RFID], particularly our small stores."

Tags were still too costly though, said Shuttleworth. "We need to cut it by at least 70%. The high cost is not the plastics, it's the fitting."

Also at the conference, James Stafford, head of clothing RFID at M&S, said the retailer's fresh food RFID scheme was now being rolled out.

Wal-Mart RFID strategy analyst Ron Moser said his company was waiting for the EU's report on RFID and privacy laws to be published in March before considering the technology for the UK.