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EECC Study Finds Intelligence in UHF RFID

The organization's latest "UHF RFID Transponder Benchmark" survey found that this year's chips and tags are 20 percent more sensitive than previous versions, on average, and that many are capable of controlling their communications as a precursor to more intelligence-based use cases.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 26, 2018

The European EPC Competence Center (EECC) has completed its latest annual UHF RFID chip survey, which finds that chips are gaining intelligence that could have implications for the furthering of affordable Internet of Things (IoT) adoption. Of the 400-plus UHF RFID chips being tested by the group, some offer functionality that takes tags from simply passive identifiers to intelligent devices that could sense conditions around them, tailor responses based on conditions or circumstance, and issue alerts based on environmental changes.

In addition to bringing functionality such as untraceable commands and other functions related to when and how RFID tags respond to interrogation, the survey also found that UHF chips have improved their sensitivity by about 20 percent over the previous year. The study, known as "UHF RFID Transponder Benchmark (UTPS) 2018-2019," has grown in scope from 20 UHF RFID chips tested in 2007 to more than 400 for the current survey. The EECC calls it the worlds' most comprehensive transponder benchmark in the world (see European EPC Competence Center Releases UHF Tag Study and EECC Benchmark Study Finds UHF Tag Performance Better Than Ever).

A UCODE DNA chip
The study consisted of 25 different measurements in the 800 to 1,000 MHz frequency range for each tag. For example, each tag's read range was measured at different rotating angles, with steps of 7.5 degrees, and both forward and backward radiated signals were measured as well. The tags were also applied to different materials covering a large spectrum of dielectric constants commonly found on RFID applications, and another test measured backscatter tag responses. Write speed, on-metal performance, close proximity reading and interference rejection were measured as well, says Mauricio V. León, the EECC's technical and implementation manager.

To qualify for testing, every chip needed to be commercially available in a tag and relevant to the market. The EECC says it requested tags from all major commercially available RFID tag manufacturers. According to Conrad von Bonin, the EECC's CEO, since the 2017-2018 survey, four chips newly produced in commercially available tags were among those tested: Alien Technology's Higgs-EC, NXP Semiconductors' UCODE 8 and UCODE DNA, and Impinj's Monza R.

Since the latest survey began, the EECC has seen the RFID industry transition through multiple phases, von Bonin says. In the first step of UHF RFID's evolution, he explains, "RFID simply made all things identifiable with a unique ID. Today, we can tag most objects on the market." What's more, the cost of tags has dropped to between about 5 and 10 cents. About three years ago, he adds, passive EPC UHF RFID tags entered a new phase with the addition of temperature and humidity detection built into the chip. "This allowed us, for the first time, to collect dynamic information about the status of the tag," von Bonin says, without requiring separate sensors or batteries.

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