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RFID News Roundup

UPM Raflatac, Blue Spark Technologies team up on BAP R&D; CAEN, Tertium release reader of ZigBee and passive HF, UHF tags; Micronetics buys M/A-COM's RFID business; Identec Solutions purchases Tunnelcom; Orange, Barclaycard to jointly develop NFC-based mobile payment services; RFID-enabled magazine connects to the Internet.
Mar 26, 2009The following are news announcements made during the past week.

UPM Raflatac, Blue Spark Technologies Team Up on BAP R&D
Tag maker UPM Raflatac has partnered with Blue Spark Technologies, a manufacturer of printed, thin batteries, to develop products and applications in the battery-assisted passive (BAP) RFID market. BAP tags, also known as semi-passive tags, are designed to provide greater read range and reliability than purely passive tags. The battery in a BAP tag runs the microchip's circuitry, but unlike an active tag, a BAP tag does not use its battery to power communication with the interrogator. Rather, it reflects the radio waves generated by the reader, just as other types of passive tags do. But a non-BAP tag also utilizes some of the reader's signal to power its microchip. A BAP tag, therefore, reflects back more of the interrogator's radio waves, making the BAP tag a better choice in environments with RF interference. The partnership, the two companies indicate, has been enabled by the launch of a new EPC Gen 2 battery-assisted passive RFID chip from Swiss-based EM Microelectronic, a manufacturer of RFID transponder ICs. EM Microelectronic's new EM4324 RFID chip is capable of battery-assisted read ranges of up to 50 meters (154 feet), and features 1024-bit, non-volatile memory, according to UPM Raflatac and Blue Spark. The chip also includes a low-battery alarm. Radio frequency performance and durability assurance will be provided by UPM Raflatac's tag and inlay design capabilities, supported by the company's worldwide production and testing facilities. Power will be supplied by a variety of Blue Spark's thin, flexible-printed battery solutions, including the ultra-thin Blue Spark UT Series. In a prepared statement, Samuli Strömberg, UPM Raflatac's VP of marketing, said, "Entry into a new market requires the best possible partners to meet industry requirements and expectations. Battery-assisted RFID inlays excel in applications demanding a longer read range and robust reading." The two companies say they are focusing their efforts on the development of high-volume BAP RFID-enabled products for the consumer, life sciences and industrial markets.

CAEN, Tertium Release Reader of ZigBee and Passive HF, UHF Tags
Italian companies Tertium Technology and CAEN RFID have unveiled a new handheld reader that can scan high-frequency (HF) and ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive RFID tags, ZigBee-based active tags and bar-coded labels. The BluePalm M series handheld devices can be used for a variety of applications, says Marco Consani, Tertium Technology's general manager, ranging from classic logistics and supply chain tracking applications to more advanced applications that can track goods and also measure their quality. A UHF tag applied to a cold-storage container, for instance, could identify and track a group of products in a container as it traverses the supply chain, while ZigBee-based sensors attached to the individual cartons within that container could measure each carton's humidity exposure. Specifically, the handheld interrogator can read passive RFID tags that support the ISO 14443 and ISO 15693 HF standards, as well as the EPC Gen 2 ISO 18000-6C and ISO 18000-6B UHF standards. The handheld weighs approximately 18 ounces, measures 9.6 by 23 by 5 centimeters (3.8 by 9 by 2 inches) and has an LCD graphic display and touch-sensitive keyboard for programming and operation. The BluePalm's replaceable batteries can typically provide eight hours of use before requiring recharging, Consani says, and the device can be designed (at the point of manufacture, or as part of routine maintenance) with interfaces for RS-232, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, ZigBee, Bluetooth or cellular communications, to enable the handheld to transmit its data to a back-end computer. Available now, the BluePalm series is designed primarily for value-added resellers and system integrators, Consani notes, though Tertium Technology and CAEN RFID do have a vertical solution for end-user companies.

Micronetics Buys M/A-COM's RFID Business
Micronetics, a Hudson, N.H., manufacturer of noise sources, noise generators, test equipment, attenuators, phase shifters, high-power switches, high-power limiters and subassemblies, has announced its acquisition of the RFID business of M/A-COM, a wholly owned subsidiary of Cobham. Cobham's sale of its RFID business was expected; the company purchased M/A-COM in 2008 from Tyco Electronics for $425 million, with plans to integrate M/A-COM's microwave subsystems into its Cobham Defence Systems (CDS) division. At the time, Cobham announced that the more commercial portion of the business, M/A-COM Technology Solutions (of which the RFID business was part), was non-core to Cobham, and that it would be run outside of Cobham's operating divisions, and held as an asset for resale. The M/A-COM Technology Solutions RFID product line consists of portal systems with directional intelligence, sensor-based forklift systems and high-performance RFID antennas. In January 2009, M/A-COM Technology Solutions unveiled a new EPC Gen 2 RFID solution for forklifts that includes laser and acoustic sensors designed to help improve tag-read and accuracy rates (see M/A-COM Combines RFID and Sensors for Smarter Forklift). "We are quite pleased to be acquiring this RFID product line," stated Dave Robbins, Micronetics' CEO, in a prepared statement, "because it is another step forward in executing our goal of being a premier supplier of enabling RF/Microwave subsystems. We believe these RFID products could have a significant near-term upside and provide growth opportunities for RF/Microwave antenna technology in the commercial and defense markets." Terms of the deal have not been disclosed. The manufacturing of the M/A-Com Technology Solutions' product line will be moved to Micronetics' existing manufacturing facility, located in Hudson, N.H.

Identec Solutions Purchases Tunnelcom
Austrian automatic-identification systems manufacturer Identec Solutions has announced that it has acquired Tunnelcom, a privately held Norwegian provider of tunnel communications and safety systems, such as its Automated Tagging System (ATS), developed specifically for the isolated and challenging environments of tunnels and mines. The deal will provide Identec Solutions with expanded presence and opportunities in the mining and tunnel industries. Tunnelcom has partnered with Identec Solutions in various implementations, levering its RFID tags, interrogators and real-time location systems (RTLS). Tunnelcom's solutions have been deployed all over the globe—most recently at the Norra Länken project in Stockholm, which consists of myriad winding and connecting tunnels. The Norra Länken deployment utilizes Identec's RFID technology, as well as closed-circuit television at all tunnel entrances, voice-enabled communication and alarms, to deliver a safety solution for contractors during the extensive building process. "Our strength is in our ability to offer complete, scalable, and highly reliable systems to specific industries," said Gerhard Schedler, Identec Solutions' CEO, in a prepared statement. "We identified Tunnelcom as a strong safety solution provider to the burgeoning mining and tunnel industries, and a strong strategic fit to further our leadership position within this market." Terms of the deal have not yet been disclosed.

Orange, Barclaycard to Jointly Develop NFC-based Mobile Payment Services
Mobile communications provider Orange, a key brand of France Telecom Group, is partnering with Barclaycard, part of Barclays' global and retail commercial banking division, to develop a range of mobile, financial and payment services that will leverage Near Field Communications (NFC) RFID technology. The two firms plan to launch new co-branded products and services to make the buying process more convenient, simpler and faster. Customers will be able to utilize their mobile phones to pay for goods and services at retailers using the NFC contactless technology, by simply waving their handset against a reader. Both companies will look to expand the partnership to include other contactless services within ticketing, transport and rewards. MasterCard will provide the payment capabilities for the transactions. The partnership between Barclaycard and Orange will also enable market-leading mobile alerts, servicing capabilities and new banking applications, all of which will help customers maintain control of their finances while on the move. The two companies indicate they will begin offering new services within the next few months. "Today, you pay for things by cash or on your credit card," said Tom Alexander, Orange UK's CEO, in a prepared statement. "Tomorrow, you'll use your mobile to buy the things you want, whether that's on the high street or the Internet. These are the services that will change the way we live and work for the better, and are evolving the way we interact with each other and the way that companies serve us." Barclaycard has more than 1.5 million contactless enabled cards in issue. The company expects to reach 6 million by the end of this year, and to soon have at least 10,000 contactless terminals installed at retail outlets. Orange has completed a number of mobile contactless trials in France, Spain and the United Kingdom.

RFID-enabled Magazine Connects to the Internet
A new French magazine, Amusement, has more than ink on its pages. In the middle of page 2, there's a passive high-frequency (HF) RFID tag designed to automatically link consumers to the Internet, where they can access exclusive interactive online content. The RFID-enabled magazine is a joint effort between French high-tech company Violet and GS1 France. The magazine's tag, which complies with the ISO 14443-B RFID standard, is designed to work with Violet's recently announced Mir:ror, an RFID interrogator that can plug into a computer's USB port. When an individual brings the magazine's RFID-tagged page near the Mir:ror, the interrogator will scan the tag's unique ID number and launch the exclusive content online. The quarterly magazine is currently available exclusively at Paris specialty store Colette; as of Mar. 20, it will also be offered at select stands and sales locations throughout Europe and the United States. The first edition released will include access to the following online digital applications: a video game designed by the artist Messhof, an interactive multi-user device by Digital Shadow, an interactive installation by Factoid (Pierre Nouvel, Valère Terrier) and The Tone, a 3-D video by Gkastere and wallpapers by Philippe Jarrigeon. "With the launch of Amusement magazine, we had hoped to rework old press technology into the Internet era by offering a real object-magazine," said Abdel Bounane, Amusement's publications director, in a prepared statement. "One year later, by connecting our publication to the Web, we have demonstrated that it is still possible to redefine the paper magazine for our generation. These publicly available applications are shining examples of the latest ways in which we can use RFID technology, ways that have already been tested and approved in the [business-to-business] world. Each year, the cost of RFID components decreases, which contributes to the development of added-value and innovative services for the consumer. This initiative is the extension of actions already taken in stores."
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