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Intel unrolls low-cost UHF RFID reader chip

Posted: 09 Mar 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Intel? RFID? UHF? Texas Instruments? STMicroelectronics?

A startup nurtured as part of Intel Capital has announced a low-cost integrated RFID reader chip for the UHF band.

The sub-$40 cost, 8-by-8mm size and 1.5W power consumption of the Intel's R1000 chip could enable a new class of portable readers, but it's unclear whether the long anticipated ramp of this sector will be based on UHF devices, analysts said.

Bar code replacement
RFID tags, now used on containers and pallets, ultimately are expected to replace bar codes used on individual retail items, creating a market explosion for RFID. However, today's UHF products lack the accuracy to read tightly stacked tags in a box or pallet, opening a door to low and high frequency tags or some hybrid yet to be developed.

"We think RFID could take off in 2009 or 2010, but it's not clear if that is with HF or some hybrid HF and UHF," said Drew. "All RFID users want one product based on one frequency, not multiple products and frequenciesand there is a lot of investment money going in to developing UHF right now."

Today's UHF readers are relatively largethe size of a Tablet PC or corporate wired phoneand cost as much as $2,000 due in part to a bill of materials of as much as $200 for transceiver modules made from more than a hundred discretes. Using the new Intel chip, readers could cost as little as $500 and have a form factor of a large PCMCIA card, said Drew Nathanson, director of RFID research at Venture Development Corp. (VDC).

The Intel R1000 dissipates 1.5W maximum, compared to tens of watts for discrete-based modules. The lower power ratings mean the R1000 can enable handheld peripherals to draw their power from a 2.5W USB connection to a notebook computer.

"The chip is addressing what we think could be one of the hottest markets in RFID," said Nathanson.

"There is an evolution taking place, but whether it will lead to something based on HF or UHF is not clear," agreed Jonathan Collins, an analyst for ABI Research.

1,000 tags/sec
UHF products operate in the 860-960MHz band and can read as many as 1,000 tags per second over distances up to 10m. That compares to HF products that have much slower data rates and require readers within a foot of the tags.

"Many apps need the UHF performance because they are working with fast conveyor belts or large pallets of 70 products or so traveling on a truck at 5-8mph," said Kerry Krause, marketing director for the RFID group at Intel.

Existing RFID players such as NXP, STMicroelectronics and Texas Instruments sell HF tags and readers and UHF tags. However, they have not yet entered into the less profitable market for UHF reader chips and are not expected to roll such products for some time.

The market for UHF reader systems is still tiny. Only 50,000 UHF-based readers were shipped in 2006. That number, however, could grow to about 75,000 this year, according to VDC.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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