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Compact, Cheap RFID Reader Chip Developed

Last week the Institute of Microelectronics in Singapore announced the development of a single reader chip for ultrahigh frequency (UHF) RFID which has the potential to dramatically reduce both the price and form factor of portable RFID readers.
Feb 06, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

February 6, 2007—Last week the Institute of Microelectronics in Singapore announced the development of a single reader chip for ultrahigh frequency (UHF) RFID which has the potential to dramatically reduce both the price and form factor of portable RFID readers.

Existing UHF readers are typically assembled using numerous discrete electronic components, each of which has to be manufactured separately. The new chip from IME, by contrast, is an integration of all these components onto a single piece of silicon. The result is a cheaper and smaller electronic device. According to Rajinder Singh, the laboratory head of the Integrated Circuits & Systems division at IME, the new chip will enable card-sized UHF reader modules that weigh less than 100 grams and consume less than one watt of power. Furthermore, IME predicts it could bring the price point of UHF reader modules down below $100.

Operable across the full 860 - 960 MHz UHF band, the chip will reportedly work in Asia, North America, and Europe. "We tried to make it flexible for worldwide coverage," said Singh. It has also been tested successfully with a handful of Gen2 tags. "There's nothing inside to prevent it from becoming compatible with any standard." Singh noted that IME hopes to eventually add dense reader mode capabilities.

The chip is currently available to outside companies for evaluation and testing, and by May it should be fully ready for production. As a government research entity, IME will not actually manufacture the readers that use the chip; third party manufacturers will. So after May, market availability of readers will depend largely on the vendors that have partnered with IME to commercialize the chip. Singh said that a number of companies are interested and will likely move forward as soon as the chip is ready. "Within this year, our partners foresee commercializing this chip and selling it to their customer channels."

Singh said that the new chip will likely be used in portable and handheld UHF readers, rather than the fixed readers used by many of the retail and supply chain deployments in North America and Europe. IME anticipates demand for higher volumes of portable and handheld readers, volumes that are necessary to justify the approximately one million dollars invested in the chip's development. "The biggest driver will come from portable applications, and we feel this chip will enable portable handheld readers in the future," said Singh. He noted that theoretically the chip could be used within fixed readers, but doing so would result in a larger form factor necessary to achieve power levels that enable fixed readers' characteristically long read ranges.

The Gen2 market has been awaiting a chip designed specifically for fixed readers, which would herald a major drop in reader prices from their range of $1,000 and above. The problem has been exactly the same issue that drove IME (and WJ Communications, which last year released a Gen2 reader chipset) to elect portable over fixed readers: lacking volumes. Developing a new chip is an expensive proposition, and without sufficient market demand reader manufacturers cannot justify the expense, opting instead for incremental improvements to their existing architectures. That said, a handful of the Gen2 reader manufacturers have plans in the works to develop just such a reader chip or chipset. It will likely be at least a year before such products make it to market.

Read the announcement from Institute of Microelectronics
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