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Aggressive HF Product Launch from Texas Instruments

Texas Instruments today issued a major announcement around its product line of high frequency (HF) RFID offerings, the breadth of which suggests an aggressive, determined bid by the company to ensure a leadership position in the HF RFID market. This article recaps the many aspects of the annoucement.
Dec 14, 2005This article was originally published by RFID Update.

December 14, 2005—Texas Instruments today issued a major announcement around its product line of high frequency (HF) RFID offerings, called Tag-it HF-I. The company has greatly expanded the product line; released a password-protected, standards-compliant write mechanism for HF tag data; introduced a rigorous quality control inlay-manufacturing process; and offered a unique solution for pharmaceuticals tagging. The breadth of the announcement suggests an aggressive, determined bid by the company to establish dominance in the HF RFID market. (Note that HF differs from UHF, the latter being the type of RFID associated with supply chain applications, retail, Wal-Mart and the DoD, etc. Texas Instruments is of course also a major player in the UHF market.)

Expanded Product Line

The Tag-it HF-I line now includes more than 25 different products of varying form factors and data storage and security capabilities. The expanded line allows TI to offer a wide variety of HF technologies that can be used across many different industries and applications, according to Mikael Ahlund, TI's director of RFID Healthcare and Tag-it products with whom RFID Update spoke. Chief among the possible vertical applications are product and asset tracking, library materials management, event and venue ticketing, laundry and textile rental, and pharmaceutical supply chain authentication. Ahlund stressed the size of the product line: "It's an awesome product roll-out of a magnitude that this industry has never seen before." He also stressed that all of the products are compliant with the ISO/IEC 15693 standard. Among the new products in the HF-I line is the Tag-it HF-I Pro, which the company says is the only ISO-IEC 15693-compliant product to offer password-protected write functionality.

High-Yield Manufacturing Process

Texas Instruments has optimized its chip-to-inlay manufacturing process, which the company claims will offer superior off-the-reel yield for its HF inlays. The quality control aspect of the process is industry-leading, according to the company, complete with laser tuning of each individual inlay. "We're the only ones in the industry to individually customize and optimize the inlay before it goes out to the customer," said Ahlund. "We will individually -- each tag -- laser trim, test, and optimize." Furthermore, TI produces the chip and the inlay, which the company says its competitors generally do not. Producing both, rather than just one or the other, allows TI to optimize the complete tag manufacturing process.

Unique Pharma Tagging Solution

The last piece of the announcement is Texas Instruments' pharmaceutical-tagging solution which combines the aforementioned password-protected write functionality with public key infrastructure (PKI) technology. According to the PKI model of drug authentication, the necessary information is stored directly on the bottle-affixed tags and in the readers located at each point in the supply chain. The alternative approach adopted by others in the market, requires an established network between all nodes in the pharma supply chain, from manufacturer to wholesaler to pharmacy. Ahlund said that while there is nothing technologically flawed about this approach, its requirement of such a network is an exceedingly tall order, one that will take years to realize. "[The network model] is fine if you have a network up and running," said Ahlund, "but as of this minute, there is no network." He continued, "The PKI solution allows authentication without the network, because the authentication is done between the tag and the reader." The PKI-based offering from Texas Instruments, asserted Ahlund, is "a solution to the problem today, now."

The company also tackled another aspect of the pharma supply chain: privacy. In stark contrast to the retail and CPG space, pharma industry players have reached a consensus that drug tags should not be deactivated ("killed") upon purchase by the consumer. One of the key potential benefits of drug-tagging is vastly improved recall processes, which would require returned drug bottles to have retained identification information on their tags. The problem, of course, is that not killing a tag leaves the consumer vulnerable to privacy invasion. Drug prescriptions can be highly sensitive personal information, and consumers would be loathe to accept the possibility of a hacker "skimming" the names of drugs located in their shopping bags as they leave the pharmacy.

The password-protection write functionality of TI's Tag-it HF-I Pro tag offers a solution. The drug's product information and serial number are stored on the tag throughout all points in the supply chain, until the bottle reaches the pharmacy. At the pharmacy, the product information is completely erased while the serial number remains untouched. Thereafter, even if a hacker succeeds in reading the tag, no identifying production information exists, only a serial number that offers no indication about what the drug actually is. Furthermore, in the event of a recall, the consumer could return the tagged bottle to the pharmacy, where the serial number would be entered into the system and reassociated with its product information to determine if it is in fact part of the recall. Ahlund called the process "a beautiful solution to a problem that has been confronting the industry."

Read the announcement from Texas Instruments
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