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Smaller, Cheaper Readers on Order

Alien Technology orders low-cost small-scale RFID reader engines from WJ Communications.
By Bob Violino
Oct 23, 2003October 24, 2003 -- Alien Technology, the Morgan Hill, Calif., company that pioneered a low-cost way of creating RFID tags, has turned to RF semiconductor designer and supplier WJ Communications to deliver an economical small Class 1 EPC-compliant reader operating in the 900 MHz UHF band. The two companies announced the joint development of the reader last month (see RFID Readers Get Smaller).
The SX2000 reader engine

While WJ won't reveal how many units Alien plans to buy, the company is ramping up for production of its 915 MHz SX2000 reader engine (basically a whole reader minus the external power supply and antenna) in support of an initial order set for delivery during this quarter. Until now, Alien has produced its own reader engines, but the company decided to work with an outside supplier for the first time because of WJ's unique expertise in designing and making small RF radios.

The SX2000 is WJ's first RFID product, but the company, based in San Jose, Calif., has developed semiconductors and RF systems for cell phone systems and complex radios for U.S. intelligence agencies. That experience enabled WJ to make the smaller reader engine.

WJ's reader engine integrates with an external power supply and antenna -- which WJ will not be making -- to create a complete reader. The device is roughly the size of a PCMCIA card used for a computer and other electronic devices. That small size does not mean a reduction in capabilities, says WJ.

"The reader engine enables readers with all the same functionality as a full-size reader," says Richard Woodburn, WJ's director of semiconductor product line management.

According to WJ, the diminutive size not only makes the unit a good choice for applications that require a small reader but it also reduces its cost. While the company will not reveal how much it will charge for the SX2000, it believes the unit's pricing is below that of existing larger reader engines. "Our design is not just smaller, it is a more simple and less expensive architecture,” says Woodburn. “We are giving a significant decrease in size and cost to Alien."

Because of the reader's small size, WJ believes the reader, which also writes data to tags, could be built into a device that prints RFID labels and writes the same information to the RFID tag. These printing systems could be deployed at locations where manufactured goods are being packaged. WJ also expects its SX2000 to be integrated into a range of portable and handheld RFID readers, including some capable of reading both RFID tags and bar codes.

Because Alien contributed some intellectual property to the development of the SX2000, it will be WJ's sole customer for the unit. But WJ plans to take much of the SX2000 design, including the chipset, and make that available to other companies that manufacture RFID readers.

WJ will manufacture the reader engines itself. It is also working with Alien to develop reader engines and possibly chipsets for UHF readers that operate in Europe, Japan and other markets, where regulations on power output and frequencies are different from those in the U.S.

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