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Shenzhen Hyan Microelectronics Creates Privacy-Protecting Garment Label

The company's new EPC Gen 2 solution consists of a button that is sewn onto a garment and a removable antenna that slides onto that button and extends its short read range to that of a standard UHF tag.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 17, 2014

When retailers employ radio frequency identification to track garments or other items in their stores for inventory-management, point-of-sale or security functionality, the tags are often disabled or removed at the time that an item is sold, so that the customer does not leave with a tag that can still be read (using an RFID reader operating the necessary software) at a distance of 5 meters (16.4) or more. But if a retailer removes or destroys the tags to protect its customers' privacy, they would no longer serve any purpose in the case of, for example, an item return, during which the store may wish to confirm the product's authenticity. Chinese integrated circuit manufacturer Shenzhen Hyan Microelectronics Co. has developed a solution that provides consumer privacy while also ensuring that the tag will still operate when needed. The company plans to release its new Garment Label during the third quarter of this year, and has opened a new U.S. office as part of a plan to market this and other tags throughout North America.

GS1's Gen2v2 standard supports some privacy and anti-counterfeiting features that allow users to deactivate a tag and then turn it on again if necessary, such as when a garment is returned to a store (see GS1 Ratifies EPC Gen2v2, Adds Security Features, More Memory). However, says Charles Lo, an executive consultant to Shenzhen Hyan, before a retailer could use those features, it would first need to update or replace its older EPC Gen 2 readers, as well as train personnel regarding such processes. "It may cause confusion in the field by adding this command, in my personal opinion," he adds.

Shenzhen Hyan Microelectronics' Garment Label consists of a button with a built-in short-range EPC Gen 2 inlay, as well as a supplemental antenna that slides onto the button to extend its range.
The Garment Label comes in two pieces that provide dual levels of operability. The tag itself is sold in the form of a button that can be sewn directly onto an item, with a built-in EPC ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag containing an Alien Technology H3 or H4 chip and a small antenna. The button tag can be read only at very close range—from a few millimeters to about a meter, in some cases. That means it can be interrogated for authentication purposes, by simply placing a standard handheld UHF reader directly against the tag, or by placing the tag directly onto a desktop reader. However, to provide the long read range offered by most standard UHF RFID tags (resulting in inventory-tracking benefits), the product also comes with a supplemental antenna built into a piece of paper that slides under the button. Upon sliding into place, the antenna makes contact with the RFID chip's antenna and extends its read range.

According to Lo, the most common use case would be as follows: An apparel manufacturer, as part of its sewing process, would apply buttons onto a garment, one of which would be the Shenzhen Hyan Garment Label button with RFID functionality. The company would also slide the supplemental antenna into place, thereby rendering the tag capable of being read at long distance. The garment's descriptors, such as a stock-keeping unit (SKU), would then be stored along with the tag's unique ID number, enabling the manufacturer, distributor and retailer to track the product's movements through the supply chain and into the store.

Once the product is purchased, the store clerk would remove the supplemental antenna from the button by simply sliding it off, and the customer would take the garment home. If he or she returned the item for an exchange, the store could read the button's label at close range, confirm the product's authenticity—and that it was purchased at that specific location—and proceed accordingly with an exchange.

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