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Smaller, Cheaper, Longer-Lasting RTLS Tags Hit Market

Real-time locating systems (RTLS) provider Ekahau today released the third generation of its tag product, the T301-A Wi-Fi tag. The new tag sports a number of significant improvements over the second generation, including a longer battery life, smaller form factor, and cheaper price tag.
Jun 15, 2006This article was originally published by RFID Update.

June 15, 2006—Real-time locating systems (RTLS) provider Ekahau today released the third generation of its tag product, the T301-A Wi-Fi tag. The new tag sports a number of significant improvements over the second generation, including a longer battery life, smaller form factor, and cheaper price tag. RFID Update spoke with Tuomo Rutanen, Ekahau's vice president of business development, about this latest offering.

The tag improvements are largely made possible by Ekahau's incorporation of the recently released "system-on-chip" (SoC) from G2 Microsystems (see New Chip Could Transform Active RFID Market). The G2 Microsystems SoC consolidates functionality on one integrated chip, allowing optimized performance for RTLS and active RFID applications. "We're the first company announcing product use of the G2 SoC," said Rutanen. Among such optimizations is energy efficiency; whereas Ekahau's second generation tags used batteries that needed recharging as often as every few weeks, the new tags can last five years on one lithium coin cell battery.

The SoC also allows for a smaller physical tag size, known as "form factor". The third generation tags have "roughly a 40% reduction in total volume," according to Rutanen. At 1.8x2.2x0.7 inches (44x55x19 millimeters), each T301-A tag is about the size of a box of matches and weighs less than 2 ounces (50 grams). "The reduction and change in form factor will allow us to tag a lot more things than we can today," noted Rutanen. With a tie-wrap, things like poles and cables can now be tagged. In addition to the reduced form factor, the new tag's ability to withstand harsh conditions has widened the application possibilities. It is a completely sealed, portless tag, so environments with humidity, moisture, and dust no longer present a problem.

Like its predecessor, the T301-A includes LEDs and a buzzer to allow remote signaling. If a miner wearing a tag unwittingly enters a dangerous area, for example, the central system could alert him by buzzing the tag. Adding to this existing capability, the new tags have two call buttons versus the previous generation's one. "That translates into a workflow event," explained Rutanen. For example, if a tag-equipped worker is located in a remote area of an organization and his machinery or vehicle fails, he could notify the central system by pressing "panic button" A. If the problem then became resolved, he could press "green light button" B to cancel the panic alert. "It opens up a lot of other areas for us where that two-way functionality can be used," said Rutanen.

The tag pricing has dropped about 40%, from $85 per tag to $50 per tag (cost decreases further in volume). The T301-A is backwards compatible and maintains the same level of accuracy and resolution as previous versions. Limited shipments of the new tag will go out to existing customers this month, and general availability is expected in September.

The RTLS market is a very nascent but increasingly active one. In Ekahau's case, the hospital vertical, which uses RTLS to tag and trace medical equipment and practitioners, represents the biggest current opportunity. The company cites a December 2005 survey from consulting giant BearingPoint that found 42 percent of U.S. hospitals plan to adopt an RTLS solution in the near future. This healthcare focus was reiterated in a recent study by research firm In-Stat (see Report: 2 Million RTLS Tags Shipped in 2010).

For more on Ekahau's general offering, see the explanation in Overview of 802.11 RTLS Vendors and the article RTLS Protects Mine and Tunnel Workers. For more on RTLS generally, see the following:

Read the announcement from Ekahau
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