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RFID News Roundup

Trimble updates ThingMagic embedded RFID readers; Identec Group raises $7.5 million in round of private financing; Google unveils NFC-based mobile-payments service; ODIN Labs completes benchmark tests on high-memory RFID tags; Frick offers new RFID floor tags for warehouse operations; HCT USA intros slim PDA with wireless RFID reader; U.K. contactless solutions companies, ACT and sQuid, merge.
May 26, 2011The following are news announcements made during the past week.

Trimble Updates ThingMagic Embedded RFID Readers
Trimble has announced new capabilities for its ThingMagic Mercury6e (M6e), Mercury5e (M5e) and Mercury5e-Compact (M5e-C) embedded ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID reader modules. Available through a firmware upgrade, the added functionality is designed to provide customers with an enhanced set of tools to develop more innovative and customized RFID solutions for worldwide deployment, according to Trimble. Key enhancements include continuous read capabilities for moving-tag applications in which precise tag reading in dense, fast-paced environments is required. According to Trimble, when operating the RFID reader in continuous-read mode, tag reading runs continuously and is not interrupted by inserting other tag operations between read cycles—a necessity when a high volume of tags are moving at a fast pace. Another feature, BlockWrite, is used when the standard EPC Gen 2 write-one-word-at-a-time mechanism is too slow. On tags that support the BlockWrite command, the feature provides faster writing of data to a tag, by writing more than one word at a time, Trimble reports. Applications that store a large amount of information on a tag will find this feature beneficial, the company indicates—and, in some cases, mandatory. Any application in which information is carried directly by a tag, and not kept in a database indexed by the tag's Electronic Product Code (EPC), is a candidate for this feature. In internal tests, when using BlockWrite, as many as 20 words were written on a tag in 1/10th of a second, Trimble reports; without BlockWrite, it took 4/10ths of a second to write that many words. Another key feature of the upgrade is enhanced channel hopping, resulting in improved read time. The upgrade also adds custom-command support for newer RFID tags developed with integrated circuits (ICs) from NXP Semiconductors and Impinj. According to Trimble, these custom commands provide for such things as additional anti-eavesdropping security and support for a tamper alarm. Additionally, a Write Tag EPC command can now be applied selectively or non-selectively to all tags within a field with a single command, reducing the time required to encode large tag populations. Support for optional EPC Gen 2 functions, including eXtended PC field and BlockPermaLock capabilities, is also available. In addition, the company has enhanced its ThingMagic MercuryAPI, the universal application programming interface (API) for all of ThingMagic's fixed/finished and embedded RFID reader products. The updated version adds Java support for M6e application development, as well as C-API support for the M5e. With this upgrade, the MercuryAPI now provides universal Java, .NET and C support across ThingMagic's entire embedded RFID product line. Lastly, the overall upgrade addresses new regulations for UHF RFID reader operation in Korea, by adding full Korean regulation conformance to the M5e. The firmware upgrade is expected to be made available beginning on May 24, 2011. Existing RFID reader module customers with a current support contract can acquire the upgrade at no additional cost.

Identec Group Raises $7.5 Million in Round of Private Financing
RFID solutions provider Identec Group has announced that it has completed a $7.5 million equity capital round with private investors. The company says the new financing will be used to fuel further expansion in the multibillion-dollar U.S. RFID solutions market, and to fund the organic growth of its member companies. Identec Group holds 100 percent of significant ownership in nine RFID solutions businesses, and maintains substantial sales and marketing operations within the United States, including four U.S.-based RFID companies. "We are gratified by the confidence placed in us by our new investors," said Dietmar Amann, Identec Group's CEO, in a prepared statement. "They recognize, as we do, the tremendous potential of RFID technology and solutions across many industry segments. This new financing will not only help escalate our U.S. expansion plans, but also the advance of our customer-facing solutions in key markets globally." Last month, Identec Group changed its name (it was formerly known as RFID Invest) and announced a new business strategy that it says is intended to promote technology, marketing, and operational and financial cross-fertilization among its RFID companies, as well as fuel the growth of member companies in vertical markets (see Identec Group Adopts New Growth Strategy to Go With Its New Name).

Google Unveils NFC-based Mobile-Payments Service
Google has introduced a mobile-payment application known as Google Wallet, based on Near-Field Communication (NFC) RFID technology. The new solution will allow consumers to pay for goods and redeem coupons simply by touching or waving their NFC-enabled phones near a receiver. Participating retailers include Bloomingdale's, Macy's, RadioShack, Subway, Toys , and Walgreens. Google's Nexus S 4G, available through Sprint, will be the first phone to support the new service. NXP Semiconductors is providing the NFC solution for the Google Wallet, leveraging NXP's PN65 NFC mobile transaction solution that integrates an NFC radio controller, the embedded secure element and NFC software in a single device. The embedded secure element uses advanced cryptography to offer a high level of security for mobile transactions, NXP reports. Google Wallet is currently being field-tested in San Francisco and New York City, according to a blog on the company's Web site, and will soon be released. With the mobile app, users will be able to store credit cards, offers, loyalty cards and gift cards. When a user taps his or her smartphone near an NFC reader (compliant with the ISO 14443 or ISO 18092 standards) to pay for a purchase, the phone will automatically redeem offers and earn loyalty points for that shopper. Google Wallet will support both a Citi MasterCard and a Google Prepaid Card. Google reports that it plans to develop application programming interfaces (APIs) that will enable integration with numerous partners, and that it will expand to support more phones over time. The firm has been ramping up its NFC capabilities since late 2010. Last November, Google launched its Hotpot service, which it describes as a local recommendation engine. Hotpot lets local patrons report on the businesses they like, by using their NFC-enabled mobile phones to scan short-range passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags embedded in "Recommended on Google" window decals adhered to business' store fronts (see Google Brings RFID-enabled Hotpot to Portland, Austin). This past March, the company took its Hotpot service to Las Vegas (see RFID News Roundup: Google Takes NFC-enabled Search Service to Las Vegas). Hotpot is an adjunct to Google's Places pages, which feature Web pages that the search engine's users can access to find information regarding a particular business' hours of operation, as well as photos, videos, coupons, customer ratings and reviews. Places pages are initially created by Google, but business owners can edit and update their individual pages, such as verifying Google search and maps information, responding to reviews, adding coupons or offers, and more. The NFC-enabled Hotpot NFC tags in the decals are encoded with ID numbers that instruct NFC-enabled phones to display the appropriate Places pages associated with those businesses.

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