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RFID News Roundup

Metro adds 70 Asian suppliers to Tag It Easy; CISC Semiconductor intros RFID tag emulation tool; AIM Global kicks off campaign to educate public about RFID's benefits; Time Domain launches partner program for real-time location system; Ekahau upgrades tool to simplify Wi-Fi network creation, management; NXP, Sony unveil Moversa, a joint NFC venture; System Planning Corp. debuts RFID/sensor system for pharma shipments.
Nov 16, 2007The following are news announcements made during the week of Nov. 12.

Metro Adds 70 Asian Suppliers to Tag It Easy
Metro Group has announced plans to expand its Asian RFID-enabled logistics initiative—"Tag It Easy!"—to include an additional 70 consumer goods suppliers in China and Vietnam. Ongoing since 2006, the "Tag It Easy!" program is part of the German retailer's Advanced Logistics Asia (ALA) initiative to improve logistics processes with its Asian suppliers by using RFID to track merchandise throughout the supply chain without having to manually count and check the packages. Metro has teamed with Checkpoint Systems, a Thorofare, N.J., provider of RFID systems, to provide RFID labels for participating suppliers. The expansion will enable the additional suppliers to apply RFID labels on shipments bound for Metro's facilities in Unna, Germany. The ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 tags store a Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC), which is read at several points along the supply chain between Hong Kong and Germany. In May, Metro expanded the initiative to include 30 Chinese suppliers, after initially launching in 2006 with a single small Chinese supplier and a third-party logistics provider (see Metro Group Expands RFID Pilot in Asia). The additional 70 suppliers, chosen based on geographic location and type of products manufactured (to ensure a diverse product mix), bring the total to 100. The first tagged shipments are expected in December.

CISC Semiconductor Intros RFID Tag Emulation Tool
CISC Semiconductor, an Austrian design and consulting services company focused on RFID, has unveiled a tool that can be used in place of UHF RFID tags to test, analyze and verify RFID system installations and readers. The CISC RFID Tag Emulator leverages technology developed by CISC Semiconductor and consists of the following hardware components: a multi-core processor unit based on Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs), and CISC Sensor Modules, used to emulate and behave like actual RFID tags. A user can set various tag parameters, according to the company's environment and intended RFID application, and the emulated tag can be fully controlled and adjusted to desired parameter sets to define worst- or best-case scenarios. In addition to conducting common test scenarios, the CISC RFID Tag Emulator can also be utilized to evaluate interrogators. The company says the tool can emulate complex standards, such as the UHF EPC Class 1 Gen 2 protocol, as well as future protocols.

AIM Global Kicks Off Campaign to Educate Public About RFID's Benefits
AIM Global, a worldwide industry association for auto-ID and mobility technologies, has launched an initiative to educate the general public and policymakers alike about the advantages RFID can provide consumers. The outreach program, dubbed "RFID: Making the World a Better Place," is intended to provide relevant, timely examples of consumer-oriented RFID applications, dispel myths about the technology and correct inaccuracies and misperceptions about RFID's use in society. "What we are doing is trying to point out, 'Believe it or not, you are probably already using RFID in your everyday life,'" says Dan Mullen, president of AIM Global, citing the use of RFID to automatically pay tolls for vehicles, as well as track baggage at airports and enable the quick check-out of books in libraries, among other applications. "These are the ways RFID can add convenience, safety and security in our everyday lives. And there are lots of opportunity to add even further benefits." Specifically, the initiative will involve contacting national, state and local media, as well as pointing them to stories of specific organizations using RFID. "We want to initiate a dialog," Mullen explains. "And with the publications we ultimately are targeting, we want to figure out what is interesting to their local readership. Is it [the use of RFID] for pets, or travel, or something else? That will guide us." AIM Global executives are overseeing the campaign. Abelson Group, a New York City marketing and communications firm specializing in the technology and telecommunications sectors, is taking the lead in executing the various outreach initiatives. Members of the organization's education and public policy committee are also involved, including Alien Technology, Impinj, Motorola, Savi, Sirit and UPM Raflatac. All participating members have committed two years to the program, in addition to varying degrees of funding.

Time Domain Launches Partner Program for Real-Time Location System
Time Domain Corp., a Huntsville, Ala., provider of ultra-wideband (UWB) products and services, has announced a channel program targeting the health-care market. The program will enable value-added resellers (VARs), independent software vendors (ISVs) and systems integrators to develop and sell applications built on top of Time Domain's Precision Location Ultra-wideband System (PLUS), a real-time location system (RTLS) incorporating UWB tags, readers and antennas; Synchronization Distribution Panels that power and synchronize the reader network; and software that calculates location. Each PLUS tag has a unique ID and can provide the location of a tagged object or person to within 36 inches, says Greg Clawson, VP of sales and marketing for Time Domain. Time Domain will begin shipping PLUS this week, and hopes to sign on 60 partners to its channel program in the near future. The company has already been working with a handful of partners in the past several months that have been working to certify the interoperability of their applications and services with PLUS.

Ekahau Upgrades Tool to Simplify Wi-Fi Network Creation, Management
Ekahau, a provider of Wi-Fi-based real-time location systems, has announced an updated version of its Ekahau Site Survey (ESS), designed to help network managers plan and administer their Wi-Fi networks. ESS 4.0 now fully integrates with Ekahau RTLS, eliminating the need for a separate "location survey" procedure of a Wi-Fi network, in addition to a standard Wi-Fi site survey. The upgrade includes additional functionality that facilitates the fine-tuning and optimizing of access points, such as the Cisco LWAP, Aruba Mobile Edge, Nortel Networks WLAN Portfolio and Siemens HiPath. The new software version also features three-dimensional prediction algorithms created to help overcome the problem of Wi-Fi signal leakage, which can cause signals on different floors to interfere or overlap with one another. A new Network Health feature provides network managers a visual summary of whether a Wi-Fi network is sufficient for their specific needs, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), video, data and location tracking. And with On-Spot Check, a network manager can take an ESS 4.0-equipped laptop to a location where connectivity issues have been detected, and receive real-time information about the problem—as well as possible solutions. ESS 4.0 is slated to be commercially available in January 2008.

NXP, Sony Unveil Moversa, a Joint NFC Venture
One year ago, Sony and semiconductor firm NXP Semiconductors announced that they had signed a memorandum of understanding to create a joint venture that would develop, manufacture and market an integrated circuit (IC) combining NXP's Mifare technology and Sony's FeliCa platform on a single chip. The creation of such an IC, the companies indicated, would support and encourage the adoption of Near Field Communication (NFC) applications, which enable mobile devices to be used for contactless-payment applications linked to credit or debit cards, among other uses (see NXP, Sony Partner to Make Chip for NFC Apps). This week, the companies introduced the joint venture, with each firm owning 50 percent. The venture, which will be called Moversa, will be headquartered in Vienna, Austria, led by co-presidents Guus Frericks of NXP and Toshio Yoshihara of Sony. "Sony has been successful with FeliCa, and NXP has been successful with Mifare," Frericks says. "Our goal is to help drive global adoption of NFC by enabling the Mifare and FeliCa systems to interoperate." Moversa's product, a chip dubbed the Universal Secure Access Module (U-SAM), will incorporate both Mifare and FeliCa operating systems and applications—two of the most widely installed contactless technologies in the world. "We will design, make and sell the U-SAM chip to handset makers," Yoshihara says, "who will combine it with ISO-standard NFC chips [based on NFC standards]—made by NXP or other companies—to create NFC-enabled phones." The first U-SAM chip is expected to be completed by mid 2008, at which point Moversa will begin technology trials. Independent of each other, NXP and Sony will also continue offering chips and applications based on the Mifare and FeliCa platforms, respectively, while developing NFC technologies jointly.

System Planning Corp. Debuts RFID/Sensor System for Pharma Shipments
System Planning Corp. has introduced PharmaTrak, an RFID-based tracking solution designed to help pharmaceutical companies monitor the location, condition and security of their goods while in transit. PharmaTrak, a customized version of the firm's GlobalTrak asset-tracking system, consists of a device called an Asset Monitoring Unit. About the size of a cigar box, the marine-certified, ruggedized unit can be affixed or mounted to a shipping container or trailer, and contains an active RFID tag that can communicate its unique identification number and other information collected from sensors via a GSM-based cellular network or satellite network to a back-end, Web-based system hosted by System Planning Corp. The tag communicates with the sensors and electronic seals via the ZigBee protocol, culling such information as temperature, light and humidity, as well as whether containers have been opened. The sensors can be incorporated, depending on customer requirements, in the Asset Monitoring Unit. "We also offer a wireless sensor node that can be used inside a tote or on a pallet or inside a case, and then communicate data back to the unit on the container," says Joseph McKinney, GlobalTrak's VP for business development. "What matters most to pharmaceutical companies is not the temperature inside a big container, but the temperature of the product. Using a remote node right on a tote pallet provides a much more accurate temperature reading." The Asset Monitoring Unit can be programmed to send data at specific intervals. In addition, PharmaTrak includes the Information Management Bureau, a Web-based system enabling companies to view the real-time information collected by the unit. PharmaTrak can be leased or purchased. Pricing depends on configuration, but McKinney says a single unit with all capabilities is available for under $1,000.
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