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Alcatel-Lucent Launching Consumer RFID Product

The tikitag system uses Near Field Communications (NFC) technology to link online applications with real-world items, enabling them to interact.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Sep 09, 2008Alcatel-Lucent Ventures, the new-product incubator of Bell Labs, the research arm of telecommunications firm Alcatel-Lucent, is rolling out a new RFID-based consumer product called tikitag.

The company introduced the tikitag RFID tag and interrogator on Monday at DEMOfall 08, a conference showcasing new technologies, in San Diego. The passive 13.56 MHz tag, embedded in an adhesive label or sticker, is compliant with the Near Field Communications (NFC) protocol; the reader is a small device that plugs into a computer's USB port. The idea behind the offering is that consumers will employ the interrogator to read a unique ID encoded to each tag and associate it with online content, such as a URL, or with an online application. By reading the tag, the tikitag reader can bridge the physical tag with the virtual world.

Tikitag stickers and interrogator.
Say, for example, you receive a framed family photograph as a gift from your aunt. You could adhere a tikitag label to the photo, then use the reader and the tikitag application running on your computer to encode a unique ID to the tag that would direct your computer's Web browser to, for instance, your cousin's blog containing her research into your family's genealogy. Thereafter, anytime you wanted to see recent discoveries she'd made regarding your family's immigration to the United States, you could just hold the photograph to the tikitag interrogator at your desk.

Because the tikitag system is manufactured in compliance with the NFC standards developed by the NFC Forum (of which Alcatel-Lucent is a member), the tags can be read by other NFC interrogators as well, including NFC-enabled cell phones. Nokia currently sells one NFC-enabled handset in the United States and soon plans to add the functionality to other models. Handset manufacturers Motorola and Samsung have also developed prototypical NFC handsets that have been used in NFC pilot programs in this country.

Alcatel-Lucent Ventures is launching tikitag with an eye toward analysts' predictions of a strong uptake of NFC phones in the coming years—ABI Research estimates that more than 20 percent of all cell phones utilized in the United States will be NFC-enabled by 2012. "We see a huge increase in [NFC phone availability] in the coming three to four years, and that will fit quite nicely with our [tikitag] system," says Paul Ross, Bell Labs' director of corporate communications. By launching the tikitag service, Alcatel-Lucent hopes to emerge as a leader in RFID-based consumer applications.

Initially, current NFC phone users will be able to read a tikitag that is associated with a particular URL, in order to visit that Web site without having to type in its address. An art gallery, for instance, could mount a tikitag on a wall next to a series of paintings. Reading the tag with a mobile phone might trigger the device to launch the artist's Web site. Alcatel-Lucent is presently working on a tikitag client that consumers will be able to load onto their mobile phones, enabling them to run specific applications on those phones. At first, however, this client will be available only for desktop or laptop users.

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