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Zebra Releases Dart Sensor to Meet New UWB Standard

The recently approved IEEE 802.15.4f specification provides an open standard that will enable ultra-wideband RFID technology users to mix products for the most competitive solution.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 12, 2012The IEEE approved the 802.15.4f active radio frequency identification standard in February of this year, and its publication is expected to occur this month. In anticipation of that development, Zebra Technologies has announced a new version of its Dart ultra-wideband (UWB) real-time location system (RTLS) sensor that will be compatible with that standard, while existing Dart sensors can be upgraded to meet the new standard via Zebra firmware.

IEEE 802.15.4f is an amendment to the IEEE 802.15.4-2011 standard for low-rate wireless personal area networks (LR-WPANs). The standard has a clause for UWB that stands by itself, as well as an additional clause specifying a separate protocol for 433 MHz and 2.4 GHz.

With the passage of the IEEE 802.15.4f standard, users of the technology can now build a system based on the open standard that would provide the framework for them to mix and match products from different vendors, or to enable the use of hybrid solutions with multiple types of technology, such as sensors with UWB tags, which typically operate at frequencies ranging from 500 MHz to 10.6 GHz, or other RFID solutions employing differing frequencies. The first UWB product to be released compatible with the new standard is an updated version of Zebra's Dart UWB RTLS sensor, which acts as a receiver for UWB tags that transmit data via short pulses, thereby enabling a user to locate the tags within a few feet.

With the new standard's adoption, compliant products from diverse vendors will now become interoperable.

During the past several years, Zebra Technologies has worked closely to develop the standard with other UWB companies, including Ubisense, Time Domain, Decawave and Guard RFID, says Tim Harrington, Zebra Technologies' VP of product strategy and vice-chair of the IEEE 802.15 Task Group. During that time, he reports, participants were creating a common physical layer (PHY) and media access control (MAC) sub-layer to the existing 802.15.4 protocol stack. The resulting 802.15.4f standard, based on that work, is designed to enable ultra-low-energy consumption, highly reliable communication and an air-interface protocol for active RFID and sensor applications, and to be flexible and configurable for a variety of active RFID transmission operations, such as from a reader to a tag, a tag to a reader, a reader to a select group of tags (multicast) and one tag to another (unicast).

Ultra-wideband RFID is typically used for asset tracking, Geiger counter systems with handheld readers, and RTLS solutions. Until now, the technology has been provided by companies as proprietary systems. That, however, is not always desirable for end users, according to Michael Liard, an analyst at VDC Research. "Customers want standards-backed technology," he says.

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