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Impinj Launches UHF Tech for Item-Level Tags

Impinj today announced an extension to its GrandPrix line of Gen2 technology solutions that will allow UHF RFID technology to be used for item-level tagging applications. The Seattle, Washington-based company believes its new technology could prove game-changing for RFID adoption at the item level.
Feb 20, 2006This article was originally published by RFID Update.

February 20, 2006—Impinj today announced an extension to its GrandPrix line of Gen2 technology solutions that will allow UHF RFID technology to be used for item-level tagging applications. The Seattle, Washington-based company believes its new technology could prove game-changing for RFID adoption at the item level. RFID Update spoke with Dr. William Colleran, Impinj president and CEO, about the announcement.

According to Colleran, Impinj decided to focus on developing tag technology tailored to item-level applications late last year after a company realization that item-level adoption had developed far faster than had been anticipated. "If you had asked me six months ago [when item-level tagging would take off]," said Colleran, "I probably would have said sometime in late 2007." The expectation had been that item-level tagging could become a reality only after significant case- and pallet-tagging adoption volumes drove down the cost of tags. But as it turns out, pharmaceutical mandates, demonstrable ROI in certain item-level applications (like apparel and CD/DVDs), and other factors have accelerated the process, causing end-users to "pull hard for item-level tagging." Now it seems that item-level tagging will not happen subsequent to case- and pallet-level tagging; it will happen in parallel. "This item-level tagging thing is starting to happen, starting to take on a life of its own," said Colleran.

In response, Impinj extended its existing Gen2 technology to support item-level tagging. Doing so meant, among other things, accommodating the special tag sizes and shapes -- "form factors" -- necessary for certain item-level applications. "We had to develop a whole series of item-level tags with different form factors," said Colleran. What varies from one to the next is not the tag's chip component (which stores and processes tag data), but the antenna (which receives and transmits the data using radio frequency). Ultimately, Impinj engineered six new antenna designs, each targeted at a particular vertical like pharmaceuticals, apparel, etc.

The new technology's wider import is its potential to tip the scale in an ongoing industry debate about whether high frequency (HF) or ultra high frequency (UHF) technology is best-suited for item-level tagging. Advocates for the former argue that HF technology is proven to work well for item-level tagging, HF readers are cheaper, and there is a widely-installed HF infrastructure in place already. Advocates for the latter argue that UHF is more modern and capable (Gen2 is UHF). Furthermore, UHF would allow item-, case-, and pallet-level tracking to all share the same RFID infrastructure; using HF would require supply chains with case- and pallet-level tagging to also deploy UHF, causing a messy, "duplicated" deployment. Also, UHF tags are fundamentally cheaper than HF tags because they require less material and one less manufacturing step. Lastly, UHF will work across all the global frequency bands in regions that are seeing RFID deployments.

Impinj's goal is not actually to sell the new antenna designs; rather, Impinj wants to sell as many of its Gen2 Monza chips as possible. By licensing the antenna designs to inlay producers at no cost, Impinj hopes to stimulate adoption of UHF-based item-level tagging, thereby driving demand for Monza. It will be demonstrating the new technology next week at RFID World in Dallas.

If Impinj and others in the UHF camp are successful, it could have a positive effect for the rest of the Gen2-associated RFID industry. Were UHF to become the technology of choice for item-level tagging, demand would grow for Gen2 technology, causing prices to fall and adoption to rise that much faster across the board. Watch for more on this theme as item-level tagging picks up and product releases like Impinj's draw ever more attention to the UHF vs. HF debate.

Read the announcement from Impinj
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