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Sparkice and iPico Form Chinese Venture

Though a partnership with Beijing-based systems integrator SparkiceLab, iPico hopes to establish its iP-X technology as China's RFID standard.
By Jonathan Collins
Tags: Standards
Nov 14, 2005In a bid to see its technology at the heart of RFID adoption in China and across Asia, South African RFID specialist iPico Holdings, located in Pretoria, has created a joint venture (JV) with Beijing-based SparkiceLab, the RFID arm of Internet and e-commerce company Sparkice Beijing.

The new company, Sparkice-iPico, brings together SparkiceLab's RFID systems integration services and iPico's RFID hardware and middleware for deployment contracts in China. However, a key factor behind the partnership is iPico's bid to establish its iP-X technology in the Asian market.

Luther Erasmus, iPico's CEO
"A core goal of the JV is to gain acceptance of iP-X as the formal—or, at least, de facto—standard in China, and for that we will need significant Chinese government and industry support," says Luther Erasmus, iPico's CEO. "We look to SparkiceLab's leadership to help in this respect."

IPico has picked a potentially influential partner. SparkiceLab is the founding company behind the RFID China Alliance and the RFID China Forum. Edward Zeng, founder and CEO of Sparkice and SparkiceLab, is secretary general for the RFID China National Alliance and a member of the Chinese National Auto-ID Standards Working Group, a body charged with helping decide which RFID technology standards China will adopt.

Zeng has long stated his belief that there will likely be several major global UHF RFID standards—the UHF protocols ratified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and EPCglobal, and a yet-to-be-finalized Asian standard based on the fact that China, Japan and South Korea have agreed to harmonize their standards for RFID.

IPico claims that its iP-X air-interface protocol is compatible with frequencies commonly used for RFID—125 kHz, 7 MHz, 13.56 MHz, 860-960MHz UHF and 2.45 GHz—and that EPC-based solutions suffer reader interference and UHF spectrum limitations outside of the United States. For those reasons, the company believes iP-X is a strong contender to become a national standard within China, and potentially across Asia.

As part of the deal, iPico is licensing a substantial part of its iP-X intellectual property to the new company. The license grants Sparkice-iPico exclusive rights to use iP-X IP in China. In turn, the JV has already submitted a royalty-free version of the iP-X protocol to the Chinese government for consideration as a potential standard technology within the country. The iP-X protocol, iPico says, can be used by anyone free of charge, in all countries except the United States and South Africa.

According to iPico's Erasmus, the JV will be based in Beijing and staffed by 20 employees drawn from both parent companies. The new company will be responsible for selling and marketing both firms' products and services in China. It will target a number of vertical markets and offer RFID solutions for supply chain management, such as security and asset tracking, and for events such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"China is one of iPico's most active—and successful—markets," Erasmus says, "and these initiatives will just continue via the JV. SparkiceLab and iPico now combine their pipelines, joint development and marketing activities.
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