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Passive Sensor Tags to Surpass 5 Million Units This Year

IDTechEx research finds that passive UHF and NFC sensor tags are dominating the RFID sensor market, while battery-assisted sensor tags are also seeing market growth as a relatively low-cost IoT solution.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 14, 2017

Sensor-based passive RFID tags have been on the market for just a few years, but according to U.K.-based market-research firm IDTechEx, they have accomplished sufficient growth in niche markets that their sales are expected to far surpass those of their battery-powered alternative. IDTechEx has found a rise in passive RFID temperature and humidity sensors that has overtaken the battery-assisted passive (BAP) RFID sensors on the market, based on the low cost of the sensors for niche markets. According to its 2017 study, released last month, there will be approximately 5.2 million passive RFID sensors sold in 2017, dwarfing the number of BAP RFID tags, of which 330,000 units are expected to be sold.

Overall, the company predicts that sales of passive and active RFID sensors will amount to $400 million, or $904 million for entire solutions, during the next ten years. That places sensor tags as a small subset of the entire RFID market, which is valued at $20 billion by 2027—but sensor-based tags are expected to grow at a rate of 12 percent in the next year alone.

IDTechEx's Raghu Das
The survey compares passive and active RFID sensor systems, including both high-frequency (HF) and ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags, which around 50 companies worldwide are offering. During the past year or so, says Raghu Das, IDTechEx's CEO, "We had noticed an increase in providers of RFID sensors," as UHF and Near Field Communication (NFC)-enabled readers have become more accessible and lower in cost.

Battery-powered RFID tags, Das says, have been available for about 15 years, but have found limited use cases. "They never sold particularly well because of the price," he states. In fact, the average battery-powered RFID tag was found to cost about $16, according to the study, making the use of such a tag in large volume unaffordable for many applications.

In recent years, with the release of sensor-based RFID ICs (sensors which are built for the purpose of transmitting sensor data via RFID protocols), the cost of RFID sensor tags has dropped to as low as $10 per tag in volume orders. But that still limits the use of such sensors to high-value items, or to use cases for which the tags can be reused.

Passive sensors from companies such as RFMicron have offered a solution that has limits. Without an onboard battery, a sensor tag cannot store the sensor's history—it can merely respond with the real-time data once it is interrogated. But for some applications, that data is all that is needed.

For instance, Das says, the tags are being used for detecting water leakage in new vehicles as they are tested at the manufacturing site. Because the tags are low-cost, they can remain in the vehicle, and thus do not require the additional labor of being removed and recommissioned for another vehicle or some other product. They can also be used to detect leaks in such products as electronics.

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