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Hybrid IC Adds Content Access to UHF-NFC Product Label

EM Microelectronic's em/echo-v enables UHF RFID use for inventory and supply chain management, as well as NFC functionality, not only to authenticate a product with an NFC device such as a phone, but also to automatically access content.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 28, 2020

Swiss semiconductor company EM Microelectronic has developed a new version of the em|echo, its hybrid Near Field Communication (NFC) and ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID chip that combines Web-based content and product authentication via NFC tag reads for brand protection and user experience, along with UHF-based inventory management, on a single label. The dual-frequency chip is currently being deployed by the company's partners, which include trusted-identities company HID Global, RFID label provider Smartrac and packaging company R-Pac, for retailer and brand end users.

The em|echo-V is a dual-frequency chip providing what EM calls RAINFC technology since it combines UHF RFID (RAIN) for supply chain management with an NFC interface for smartphone-enabled consumer-engagement and brand-protection applications. With NFC Type-5, which is compliant with the ISO 15693 standard rather than the more traditional ISO 14443 standard, the chip can provide Web authentication before, during or after a purchase, in order to enable consumer engagement. Companies can embed the chip in a label or a sticker tag, or they can integrate it into product packaging. Its memory can be accessed via both NFC and UHF communication protocols. The chip supports up to 2 kilobits of user memory for storing a URL, an EPC number up to 480 bits in size and other types of user data.

The use of the latest NFC standard in the em|echo-V enables any NFC-reading phone to access websites and videos, as well as dynamic, pre-purchase or post-purchase content related to a particular product, with the tap of a phone, explains Paul Muller, EM Microelectronic's RFID business unit manager. A user can access the same information from the chip's memory, whether reading the tag with a UHF or NFC reader. EM Microelectronic develops and manufactures semiconductors for companies that include its parent company, The Swatch Group. Its ICs include RFID-based products, as well as LCD drivers and displays, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) chips and modules, sensor ICs and power-management products.

EM has offered a family of dual-frequency chips that combine NFC and UHF RFID on a single chip, for the past four years. A UHF transmission is used for longer-range reading of a tag's unique ID via a UHF RFID reader (about 10 meters [33 feet], for instance), while the NFC transmission brings read capability to the consumer at close range, by transmitting data to an interrogator built into the majority of smartphones currently available.

EM Microelectronic's customers are interested in RFID to improve supply chain operational efficiencies, Muller says. However, he notes, there are other challenges that NFC is better designed to address—preventing counterfeiting, for example. The hybrid echo chip is already being used by brands to track and authenticate high-end products using a unique static ID or URL in combination with Android-based access technology. "The em|echo-V provides a smartphone platform-agnostic Web-authentication solution based on a dynamic NDEF message approach," Muller states. The chip's AES-128 cryptographic hardware implementation, designed to use minimum silicon space, enables a compact antenna designs thanks to its low power consumption and ISO 15693 air interface, he adds.

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