How Zebra is Proving RFID’s Worth

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 @ 09:50 AM

Tags: RFID, Internet of Things, Embedded RFID, RFID Printers

Zebra TechnologiesEvery day we’re connected through technology. This communication between people, devices, networks, and everything in between has become so prevalent that it seems ordinary for most.  Clearly what we now take for granted has been years in the making, with innumerable individuals and companies working to make it happen.  But I think it’s worth highlighting the recent successes of companies like Zebra Technologies, whose leadership has helped to make this connected world possible, and has helped put technologies like RFID at the center of this movement.

Zebra - a partner of ThingMagic for many years - provides enabling technologies for organizations with high-volume, mission-critical or specialty labeling needs.  Several Zebra products use ThingMagic embedded modules to encode RFID tags used for item-level tracking applications such as healthcare specimen tagging, supply chain work-in-process management, and retail item tracking, among many others. Zebra’s recent recognition by Frost & Sullivan as the 2012 Company of the Year in North America for their high-value products, robust portfolio, deep market penetration, and optimized channel strategy is a testament to the impact they have had on the entire industry.  Their reach is impressive – having shipped over 11 million printers of all kinds to nearly 100 different countries – and is a driving force behind making RFID-enabled solutions a viable option across markets.

In addition to their execution on the technology end of business, Zebra has done a good job articulating to the public the importance of an interconnected world, more specifically promoting an understanding of the value of the “Internet of Things.”  To further an understanding of this concept, Zebra recently partnered with Forrester to produce a study that helps IT decision-makers better understand the importance and growing presence of Internet of Things solutions. The RFID-based technologies behind the Internet of Things are used to solve business problems like supply chain inefficiencies as well as inspire innovation in organizations.  And as the survey revealed that 82% of organizations either have Internet of Things solutions in place already or plan to put solutions in place in the next 5 years, it’s become clear that the Internet of Things will become a household concept in the very near future.

Congratulations Zebra!  We as an industry should follow your example of explaining and promoting the value everyone has and will experience in this increasingly connected world.

Five-Cent Wireless Networking – The Most Important Invention in RFID Yet

Posted by Bernd Schoner on Fri, Nov 09, 2012 @ 10:31 AM

Tags: RFID, Item Level RFID, Internet of Things, Embedded RFID, Smart Objects

RFID ChipHundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on the R&D effort to develop passive RFID tags that can be offered for five cents or less. Have we succeeded? Almost. In high volumes assembled UHF tag inlays cost somewhere between seven and ten cents. Along the way, however, the RFID industry have invented something far more important: five-cent wireless networking!

What is it and how does it work?

Both NXP and Impinj have released RFID chips that offer an Inter-Integrated Circuit (I2C) interface in addition to the Gen2 RFID interface. The new chips also include significantly more memory compared to previous generations of simple-passive RFID IC’s: NXP’s UCODE I2C offers 3.3kBit of EEPROM memory; Impinj’s Monza-X offers 2.1 to 8.2kBit of EEPROM memory.

Electronics manufacturers have been using I2C-enabled EEPROM memory chips for decades to store small amounts of data persistently, including configuration data or boot-loading information. As the main microprocessor of a device is powered up, it reads configuration information from the memory chip via the I2C interface.

The new generation of I2C-RFID chips will maintain this functionality, but offer more. The memory content can be accessed through the I2C interface and through wireless RFID interface using a standard UHF Gen2 RFID reader. Since the RFID chips can be used in passive mode, the EEPROM memory can be read and written to without powering the host device.

Why is it so cheap?

Fully assembled conventional RFID tags require the actual chip, an antenna substrate, and the conversion into a usable package. A relatively small percentage of the cost can be attributed to the chip itself. The biggest cost items are the handling, assembly and antenna substrates.

When I2C-RFID chips are placed on printed circuit boards, the antenna is etched into the board at virtually no additional cost. The assembly is part of the surface mount board assembly, i.e. it’s also virtually free. Hence the only real cost item is the IC itself. The I2C enabled RFID chips are more expensive than the regular passive RFID IC’s, however, most of that cost can be attributed to the large memory of the chips. Since I2C-RFID chips replace conventional EEPROM chips, the marginal cost of adding RFID and hence wireless networking amounts to a few cents.

What is it going to be used for?

Device manufacturers will include the I2C-RFID chips to store essential configuration, licensing, or product information persistently. Since the memory can be written to over the air, configuration or licensing information can be applied to the device using an RFID reader without turning on the device.

In manufacturing, the RFID chip can be used to identify and serialize the device (WIP tracking). Once manufactured, channel partners are able to configure devices in the warehouse or at the point of sale without taking them out of the box.

Post sales, the device’s host processor can log information on usage hours, failure modes, misuse, use of consumables etc. on the I2C-RFID chip. As the device is sent in for maintenance or repair, the information is available to the service center through the RFID interface. Once again, the device does not have to be tuned on to read out the information.

Intel announced recently that it has included an I2C-RFID chip with the reference design for its new Windows 8 tablet computer, making Intel and its OEM partners the biggest users of this new capability yet.

Why is this so important?

More and more of the objects we buy and use on a daily basis include electronic circuit boards to support and enhance basic functionality: Nowadays toys like to speak to their child owners, kitchen appliances can be programmed to turn on at arbitrary times, toothbrushes beep when its time to switch sides, and power saws shut off electronically when safety is compromised. Today, few of these devices are networked and few are RFID-enabled. The inclusion of the new I2C-RFID ships will enable both RF networking and RF identification. Almost overnight networking and identification of inexpensive everyday objects has become feasible and realistic.

We have long been waiting for the Internet of Things to become a reality. I think I2C-RFID chips will finally make it happen.


(Photo: Tom Hurst / RFID Journal)

Why the Micro is the Best RFID Module Ever

Posted by Bernd Schoner on Fri, Nov 02, 2012 @ 11:33 AM

Tags: RFID, Embedded RFID

ThingMagic M6e-MicroLet’s face it, we have developed quite a few RFID modules over the past decade. We have developed small modules, high-power modules, modules with low-power consumption, modules for handhelds, modules for printers, FCC-certified modules, ETSI-compliant modules, and modules designed for the Chinese market. Why on earth would we develop yet another module which – at first glance - doesn’t offer additional capabilities over previous generations?

The short answer is, that never before were we able to package all these features in a small, inexpensive, and powerful design. The M6e-Micro offers previously available capabilities in ONE module. It therefore enables all the applications we have supported in the past, and more.

If you prefer the long answer, I believe this is the best UHF RFID module ever for three key reasons:

1. Size

Size is extremely important, especially for small end-devices such as handheld terminals. If the RFID module doesn’t fit physically into a host device, it will not be considered for a project, no matter how powerful it is. At 26x26x4mm, the M6e-Micro is smaller than any module we have designed in the past and smaller than any other module in its class on the market.

The engineering accomplishment here is not so much that we were able to squeeze a bunch of components onto a small board surface, but that we were able to keep the board at a reasonable temperature. Since power amplifiers generate quite a bit of heat, up until now the difficulty has been to design high-power modules in small packages without major heat-sinking surfaces. The M6e-Micro overcomes this limitation. It can transmit at full power despite its small size.

2. Power output and power consumption

The Micro offers a maximum of 30dBm of output power which represents the maximum power output allowed in North America and in most other worldwide regulatory environments. In passive RFID systems, even a single dB of additional reader output power can make a huge difference in performance. The Micro offers between three and seven dB more output power compared to competing devices in its class.  

As important as output power is, many mobile devices use low-power modules in order to save battery life. The Micro enables the user to turns on high-power in burst mode when needed, and then switch back into a low-power mode to save battery power. This is the exact capability needed by handheld RFID terminal vendors who want to push the read range of a device without sacrificing battery life.  

3. Regional compliance

By now we know that electromagnetic emission requirements for North America, Europe, and China cannot be met in one and the same reader device, unless separate filter banks are implemented to support the three key regions. That’s exactly what we did on the M6e-Micro, despite the fact that the device is smaller than anything we have designed before. The Micro is the first full-power RFID module to support every RFID region in the world with the possible exception of Japan (Japanese RFID regulations are still debated).

In summary, the Micro is a real engineering beauty and packs many of the features of earlier generations of modules in one device. Within weeks, I expect a dozen of Micro-like datasheets to be published by our far-east competitors. The only difference to the ‘Micro’ will be, that those devices either will not get developed at all, or they turn out to be out of spec in a few but important aspects. Usually the copycats forget to design in compliance, which only becomes evident to the customer late in the design-in process.

So here is my advice for you, dear customer: check on the compliance and certification performance of competitive modules, or – if you prefer to save yourself the time and agony - choose the M6e-Micro right away!

For more information, check out these resrouces:

>> Micro datasheet


>> Whitepaper: Getting a Read on Embedded UHF RFID: Why RFID Modules are the Smart Choice for Developing Next-Generation Solutions

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