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Raflatac Promotes Phase-Jitter for Pharma

The Finnish RFID inlay and label maker unveils a new line of HF tags using chips produced according to Magellan's patented phase-jitter modulation design.
By Jonathan Collins
Mar 24, 2006Phase-jitter modulation (PJM), created by Australian HF RFID specialist Magellan Technology, is gaining support for use in pharmaceutical applications. Finnish RFID inlay and label company UPM Raflatac is set to manufacture a new line of HF tags using chips produced according to Magellan's design.

Tags using PJM technology offer high interrogation rates, according to Magellan, even in environments containing many tags within read range. Therefore, the two companies believe the new HF tags will be well suited to item-level tagging by the pharmaceutical industry.

"We already have pharma companies in Europe testing our technology on a range of pharmaceutical products and packaging," says Bodo Ischebeck, COO at Magellan.

Magellan's IC designs use the company's phase-jitter modulation protocol (a variant of phase-shift keying), which the company says is unique in the RFID industry. Operating at 13.56 MHz and complying with the ISO/IEC 18000 3 Mode 2 standard, this technology enables a write data rate up to 424 kilobits per second and a read data rate of 106 kbit/s. "That, combined with our anticollision protocol, means reads of up to 16,000 tags a second," Ischebeck claims.

UPM Rafsec, now part of Raflatac, initially licensed the technology back in 2003. Upgrades to the technology, however—as well as the potential demand from the pharmaceutical industry for an RFID technology capable of managing such high throughput—has led to the new tag product line. "There is tenfold increase in the performance of these tags [over existing HF systems]," says Samuli Stromberg, UPM Raflatac's vice president of RFID marketing.

However, tags based on Magellan's IC designs must be used in conjunction with Magellan's own interrogator (reader) technology. Magellan and its partners, Balogh and Nippon Signal, manufacture desktop, tunnel and handheld interrogators utilizing PJM. Magellan knows that pharma companies selecting its technology will need to ensure that supply chain partners invest in the same technology if they use the Magellan-based tags. Still, the firm believes the benefits of HF and its own technology will be enough to win over pharma customers.

Debate between proponents of HF and UHF within the RFID market continues about whether item-level tracking in markets such as pharmaceuticals will require the concurrent reading of tightly packed tagged items. Nonetheless, Magellan believes HF systems currently have an advantage over UHF because HF is the more-established technology and has a shorter read range. With pharma items produced and shipped in densely packed quantities, the shorter read range of HF is arguably better suited to addressing tags on each item. An HF reader can be focused on immediate areas so that it reads only tags within inches of it, without interference from nearby tags.

The new Raflatac tags come in three sizes—45 by 76 millimetres (1.81 by 2.99 inches), 16 by 28 mm (0.63 by 1.10 inches) and 25-mm (1-inch) diameter—all available in trial quantities with a range of memory configurations. Although Raflatac has not announced pricing for its new Magellan IC tags, it does say prices will be higher than those of existing HF inlays and labels. Infineon Technologies of Munich is manufacturing the ICs to Magellan's design.

Outside the pharma industry, Magellan's RFID technology already has customers in the gaming market, where its high-speed item-level system can be used to track gambling chips on betting tables. The chips and tables with Magellan-designed readers are being marketed to casinos by Las Vegas-based Progressive Gaming International (PGIC).
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