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Starport Announces RFID Chip for Mobile Devices

Fabless semiconductor startup Starport Systems last week announced the SP7001, a Gen2 RFID reader chip whose reduced price and small form factor the company hopes will enable the incorporation of RFID into far more devices than is possible today, eventually resulting in the emergence of a new class of RFID applications.
Mar 14, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

March 14, 2007—Fabless semiconductor startup Starport Systems last week announced the SP7001, a Gen2 RFID reader chip whose reduced price and small form factor the company hopes will enable the incorporation of RFID into far more devices than is possible today, eventually resulting in the emergence of a new class of RFID applications.

The SP7001 is a single microchip that integrates many of the individual electronic components that comprise the internals of most of today's RFID readers. Integrating those components' functionality onto a so-called system-on-chip (SoC) allows readers to be built more affordably and smaller than the current method, which requires reader manufacturers to purchase the components from different suppliers and then assemble them into the final reader product. If this all sounds familiar, it is because just last week Intel announced its own Gen2 reader chip, touting many of the same advantages (see Intel Announces Gen2 RFID Reader Chip). WJ Communications and Singapore's Institute of Microelectronics have also announced Gen2 reader chips.

Starport is targeting the SP7001 primarily at mobile devices, where the company envisions the possibility of a rich, RFID-enabled ecosystem of new applications and services. "We are initially targeting mobile platforms such as PDAs, smart phones, and notebook PCs," CEO Armond Hairapetian tells RFID Update. "We believe that by combining the Gen2 reader functionality with the existing WLAN, Bluetooth, cellular, GPS, and other functions that already exist in current mobile platforms, a new class of RFID applications will emerge."

Hairapetian points out that the introduction of SoC technology in other wireless sectors has proved to be a sort of tipping point. "Single-chip solutions have been the catalyst for the mass adoption of various wireless technologies such as WLAN and Bluetooth. With a single-chip solution, our customers will be able to unleash the many advantages of UHF RFID technology and develop new products and applications."

Starport believes its pricing of $50 per unit (in quantities over 10,000) will enable sub-$100 RFID readers.

As for whether the SP7001 will make its way into the fixed readers used on dock doors and throughout the supply chain, Hairapetian says that while it is technologically possible, it may not be the most economically compelling opportunity. "We have enough horsepower and performance in our chip to target all applications, however the revenue has to justify the additional development and support cost." A more attractive supply chain application would be smart shelves, whose expected high volumes could better justify the associated costs.

The SP7001 is slated for full production by the end of the summer, and Hairapetian expects early products based on it will become commercially available by the end of the year.

Based in Irvine, California, Starport received its initial funding in August 2005 from Miramar Venture Partners. Previously, Hairapetian co-founded another semiconductor firm called NewPort Communications, which was acquired by semiconductor giant Broadcom for $1.2 billion in 2000.
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