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RFID News Roundup

Trimble introduces ThingMagic Astra-EX UHF RFID reader; HID Global wraps up two NFC smartphone pilots that open doors in the enterprise; TracTech Systems announces new handheld RFID reader for jewelry industry; Fujitsu announces availability of new high-memory RFID chip.
Sep 27, 2012The following are news announcements made during the past week.

Trimble Introduces ThingMagic Astra-EX UHF RFID Reader
Trimble has introduced its ThingMagic Astra-EX reader, an addition to its integrated ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID family of readers and antennas. Designed for enterprise and commercial applications, the Astra-EX device is built on ThingMagic's Mercury 6e (M6e) EPC Gen 2 RFID embedded reader module. According to Trimble, the new reader is easy to install and integrate with corporate IT infrastructures, and blends well with enterprise layouts. The interrogator builds on the capabilities of the widely deployed first-generation Astra reader, and includes several new high-performance and application-specific features. Key features include support for the EPC Gen 2 and ISO 18000-6C standards (as well as optional support for the ISO 18000-6B standard), with anti-collision Dense Reader Mode (DRM) and advanced anti-jamming functionality; a fully integrated 8.5 dBic circularly polarized antenna and an RP TNC connector for a secondary external antenna, if so desired; separate read and write levels, adjustable from 5 dBm to 30 dBm on the integrated antenna and up to 31.5 dBm on the external antenna port; and power over Ethernet (PoE) 802.3af and external DC power options. There is an integrated Wi-Fi option, 32 megabytes of flash memory and 64 megabytes of DRAM available for reader-hosted applications, as well as support for Low-Level Reader Protocol (LLRP) v1.0.1 with multiprotocol extensions. The Astra-EX reader features a Fast Search mode for interrogating tags affixed to fast-moving objects. According to Ken Lynch, ThingMagic's director of marketing, the industry-standard Gen 2 protocol was designed to inventory large quantities of stationary tags, but options provided in the protocol also make it suitable for applications in which a small population of fast-moving tags must be read rapidly. "ThingMagic's Fast Search mode," he explains, "is a combination of the automatic selection of Gen 2 settings that are optimum for fast-moving tags, combined with changes to our reading algorithms to optimize its ability to read a small population of tags many times, rather than the more standard requirement to read a large population of tags at least once." The Fast Search mode supports both Gen 2 and ISO 18000-6B tags, Lynch reports, and has been designed to read tags moving at speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour (124 miles per hour). The Astra-EX reader also offers the ability to rapidly adapt to changing tag populations. This is accomplished via ThingMagic's algorithm that gradually adjusts the "Q" value—a setting in the Gen 2 protocol that affects the length of time available to inventory a population of tags. With Astra-EX, Lynch says, ThingMagic has updated the algorithm to work more quickly. "The ability for an RFID reader to adapt to rapidly changing tag populations," he says, "is critical for many manufacturing, supply chain and enterprise applications that include conveyors and/or portals, and where hundreds of tagged items may be passing by a read point over a short period of time." The Astra-EX device also has the ability to obtain 128 bytes of data with every tag read; earlier versions of ThingMagic's readers can obtain 32 bytes of data with each read. In addition, Lynch reports, the new reader supports the Gen 2 option of requesting the full contents of a memory location with a single command, without having to know its length. "Extending the payload size from 32 to 128 bytes allows us to obtain all the data from a memory location up to 1024 bits in size," he adds. Another enhancement is support for the full cool-Log command set for IDS Microchip's SL900A sensor tags. Previous ThingMagic releases have supported custom commands from other chip vendors—NXP Semiconductors, Impinj and Alien Technology—for a variety of functions, such as electronic article surveillance (EAS) alarms, data transfer, read security, extensions to Gen 2 for better performance, and writing all fields with a single command. This release offers the first support for intelligent sensor tags with data logging, and this capability is used for the continuous tracking of environmental conditions, most often temperature during handling and transit. The IDS SL900A model is an EPC Class 3 tag IC that can be operated either semi-passively or passively, with a fully integrated temperature sensor and with two additional external sensor interfaces. Its full custom command set is supported: Set Password, Set Log Mode, Set Log Limits, Set SFE Parameters, Set Calibration Data, Set Shelf Life, Get Measurement Setup, Get Log State, Get Calibration Data, Get Battery Level, Get Sensor Value, Initialize, Start Log, End Log and Access FIFO. Finally, the Astra-EX reader includes a newly designed Web interface aimed at delivering a better out-of-the-box experience for solution developers and end users, according to Trimble. The interrogator also supports the ThingMagic Universal Reader Assistant, a utility used to initialize readers and perform such common tasks as selecting application-specific performance settings. The list price of the Astra-EX reader is $995 for the PoE model and $1,095 for the Wi-Fi version. Both models are expected to be generally available by the end of September.

HID Global Wraps Up Two NFC Smartphone Pilots that Open Doors in the Enterprise
HID Global, a division of ASSA ABLOY, has announced that it has completed two pilot programs that were fielded to validate the use of Near Field Communication (NFC)-enabled smartphones utilized by employees to open doors, without compromising physical enterprise security. The pilots were conducted at the headquarters of Netflix, as well as Good Technology, a provider of secure enterprise-mobility solutions. The pilots employed HID Global's iCLASS SE RFID platform, including iCLASS Seos credentials that are portable for use on NFC-enabled smartphones. The iCLASS Seos credentials are the outcome of several years of trialing custom solutions (see ASSA ABLOY Creates NFC Solution that Uses Phones to Open Doors, Grant Computer Access). During the two recent pilots, HID Global's multiCLASS SE readers replaced proximity readers at selected locations at both the Netflix and Good facilities, and pilot participants at each company were provided with Samsung Galaxy S III handsets, according to HID Global. The handsets were equipped with NFC capabilities and HID Global digital keys, so they could securely store and emulate user credentials and open doors by presenting the handsets to the HID Global readers. According to HID Global, Netflix has traditionally utilized RFID keyfobs for access control, and wanted to evaluate the benefits of provisioning digital keys over-the-air to its staff's smartphones, in order to further streamline the new-employee on-boarding process. Netflix also believed that digital keys could be a valuable addition to smartphones in its bring-your-own-device (BYOD) mobility environment. By the time the pilot was launched, almost half of the participants were already socializing the mobile access experience, HID Global says, by using proximity tags affixed to the back of their current phones to open doors. The pilot was intended to test the concept of a true mobile access experience with over-the-air provisioning capability that also delivered improved user convenience and security. In addition to testing this basic over-the-air mobile access-control capability, Good Technology and HID Global extended Good's mobile access pilot to also evaluate the use of an NFC-enabled Sargent SE LP10 lock on the door to an executive's office that colleagues use as a temporary conference room while he is away. (The cylindrical SE LP10 lock—supplied by Sargent, another division of ASSA ABLOY—features HID Global's HID multiclass RFID technology.) This, HID Global explains, provided the executive with control access to his office—which he offers only to select members of his team during specified times—and enables him to run reports regarding who was using his office, and when. According to HID Global, participants in the two recent pilots highlighted improved security among the many benefits of using smartphones to open doors. During a third-party survey of pilot participants, more than 80 percent of Netflix respondents said they considered the application for unlocking a door intuitive, while nearly 90 percent described it as easy to use. Equally, 80 percent of Good Technology's pilot participants surveyed said they felt the smartphone was more convenient to use than their current access card, primarily because they never forget their phones, like they sometimes do with their badges. About 75 percent of Netflix respondents indicated they would be willing to load the app onto their own personal smartphone, HID Global reports, and roughly 75 percent at Netflix and 67 percent at Good Technology said that other people who witnessed them using their smartphone to access the building asked questions or expressed an interest in it. The pilots highlighted a number of opportunities to improve the mobile access-control experience as the industry moves closer to deployment, the company adds. This includes bringing a greater number of mobile network operators and handset manufacturers into the ecosystem so that users have more service and product choices. Additionally, participants cited the need for an "always on" access-control experience, which requires that NFC handsets be able to open doors without having to launch an app, and that their secure elements—either embedded in the phone or in their subscriber identity module (SIM) cards—are made available for over-the-air communications directly with service providers. Pilot participants also highlighted the need for solutions that do not excessively drain battery, remain available even when the battery is dead, do not interrupt other tasks, and deliver an intuitive user interface with accurate graphical representations and conveniently sized icons.

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