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Inlay Companies Testing EM Micro's Dual NFC and EPC Chip

EM Microelectronic's new dual-interface chip could enable inlay manufacturers to sell products that can be read using EPC UHF readers for tracking inventory, and by NFC-enabled phones or tablets in stores by consumers or store personnel.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 23, 2015

Global semiconductor manufacturer EM Microelectronic has released its new EM4423 silicon chip featuring two types of passive RFID interfaces—EPC Gen2v2 and Near Field Communication (NFC)—on a single IC. The chip would enable companies to create tags that can transmit the same unique ID number and data stored in its memory via ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC or high-frequency (HF) NFC readers. The EM4423 is currently being tested by nearly every major RFID inlay manufacturer, according to Mark Jakusovszky, EM Microelectronic's U.S. sales and marketing manager. Following that testing period, he says, the company expects inlay makers and systems integrators to begin designing technology and solutions leveraging the IC's dual functionality. EM Microelectronic intends to begin mass-producing the chips by the end of this year.

The technology was initially designed to meet the needs of EM Microelectronic's parent company, Swatch Group. Some of the watch company's subsidiaries use EPC UHF RFID tags on the packaging of their products in order to track inventory en route to stores. The company liked the idea of enabling customers to use their NFC-enabled smartphones or tablets to access more information about the watches—or to share their own data—at the point of purchase, via that same tag. In that way, Swatch and its watch-making subsidiaries would be able to interface with their end customers.

Mark Jakusovszky
Once the technology was developed, says Hugues Blangy, EM Microelectronic's business unit manager of RFID circuits, his company drew interest for such technology on a broader scale, so that even as some Swatch subsidiaries are testing EM4423-based tags on some of their own products, consumer goods manufacturers and systems integrators are showing an interest in using EM4423-based tags in similar ways.

There are dual NFC and UHF tags currently on the market, but they come with two independent systems—one chip and antenna dedicated to NFC HF transmission and data storage, and another chip and antenna for UHF. With the EM4423, the single chip, connected to an HF and UHF antenna, can communicate with either an HF NFC reader or a UHF EPC Gen 2 or Gen2v2 reader. The chip's memory for data storage (more than 2 kilobits) is accessible by both types of readers (HF or UHF). Once interrogated, Blangy explains, the chip responds on the corresponding frequency band.

The EM4423 also features an NFC field powering option for increased UHF performance and reading range. Thus, if the IC receives both HF and UHF reader transmissions simultaneously, it can use the NFC signal to boost the power of its UHF response. This function is inherent in the chip's design, so it need not be special-ordered.

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