Sometime this fall, an international standards body will sign off on a tracking technology that will launch one of the most massive purchases of a new electronics product by business in history. It is not too dramatic to suggest that this technology will lead major companies like Coca-Cola ( KO) and Procter & Gamble ( PG) to buy hundreds of billions more semiconductors per year than they obtain today and lead to an entirely new relationship between people and the things they buy. This technology, called radio frequency identification, or RFID for short, has been around for a couple of decades in a variety of crude forms. But with the advent of a global standard, the prospect for radically lower-cost devices and increasing demands for a streamlined worldwide supply chain have led a vanguard of key Fortune 500 manufacturing and retailing companies to push RFID to the front of their spending plans for the next three to 10 years. "In terms of chips sold, it will dwarf any other semiconductor application out there now," said Bill Allen, a spokesman for Texas Instruments ( TXN). An Internet of Things At its most basic, RFID simply enables businesses to identify and track their assets wirelessly. Slap a 50-cent signal-emitting transponder onto a case of Coke or a pallet of Cover Girl makeup, and a manufacturer can remotely monitor its progress from the manufacturing plant through the warehouse to the trucker to the distributor to the supermarket warehouse, with diminished threat of human error. Slap a 5-cent transmitter on the can of Coke itself, and the retailer knows immediately, via a reader and antenna on a "smart shelf," when Aisle 7A needs replenishing. Unlike a bar code, which identifies an aluminum cylinder filled with brown fizz simply as a can of Coca-Cola and must be read one-by-one via a line-of-sight wand, an RFID transmitter gives each can its own reprogrammable digital identity and can be read wirelessly at a 10,000-item-per-second clip. This "electronic product code," or EPC, allows a retailer to know that a can -- or, more important, something dangerous or perishable such as a drug or a package of fish -- began life on the third conveyer belt of Building B of the manufacturer's Sarasota, Fla., plant on June 14.