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Texas Instruments Announces Gen2 RFID Chips

Texas Instruments today announced the release and general availability of its new Gen2 silicon, becoming one of only two companies to offer the integral chips which constitute the "brains" of Gen2-compliant RFID tags. The company says the chips offer increased performance and functionality over the competition.
Jul 31, 2006This article was originally published by RFID Update.

July 31, 2006—Texas Instruments today announced the release and general availability of its new Gen2 silicon, becoming one of only two companies to offer the integral chips that act as the "brains" of Gen2-compliant RFID tags. The company says the chips offer increased performance and functionality over the competition. According to Tony Sabetti, the director of UHF/retail supply chain for TI's RFID Systems division, this is the biggest announcement to come out of his group in three years.

"We've made several technology investments to ensure that TI Gen2 silicon has the best performance in the marketplace," said Sabetti, citing performance as a key selling point for the chip. He pointed out that many retailers are still struggling to get 100% read rates on tagged pallets, requiring a reliance on software techniques to determine the location of pallets whose tags don't register.

To achieve high performance, TI focused primarily on two characteristics: signal sensitivity and power consumption. The former reflects how well an RFID chip detects the signals being broadcast by readers in proximity; the higher the chip sensitivity, the weaker the reader signal needs to be for the tag to react. High sensitivity therefore results in better read rates, because the tag can start operating at a greater distance from the reader antenna. Power consumption is how efficiently a chip uses the power it receives from the RFID reader signal. High efficiency means reduced power consumption, which once again results in a tag being able to respond to a reader signal at greater distances. The reduced power consumption is in part due to the chip's 130 nanometer node technology, which means that the chip transistors are smaller and consume less energy than, say, a chip using 180 nanometer node technology. It is also due to a built-in "Schottky Diode", which efficiently converts radio frequency signal energy into usable power.

The TI Gen2 silicon is being offered in three form factors: as raw wafer, processed wafer, and strap. As the least preprocessed form factor, raw wafers offer the most flexibility and can be used in a variety of assembly processes. Processed, or "bumped", wafers can be easily mounted on standard wafer-handling inlay equipment. Straps are targeted at label and packaging manufacturers who would typically design their own inlay antennas. This form factor offers an affordable way to integrate RFID into the manufacture of packaging, labels, and corrugated cardboard. Unlike the wafer form factors, straps don't require expensive chip-handling equipment. "This is a way to get to very high-speed assembly with very little capital investment," said Sabetti, adding that TI will provide reference antenna designs to aid customers in optimizing the silicon.

The chip offers all the standard features of Gen2, plus the added functionality of "block write" and "block erase". These optional Gen2 commands offer bulk writing and erasing, respectively, which results in faster processing when large amounts of tag data need to be saved or deleted. The chip is ISO/IEC 18000-6c compliant, includes 192 bits of memory, and operates in the standard 860-960 MHz ultrahigh frequency band.

Interoperability with existing deployments will be of paramount importance for end-user adoption of the chip, and to that end TI has gone to great lengths to test it with the leading Gen2 RFID readers deployed today, including the Alien XLR-9800, Impinj Speedway, Intermec IF4 and IF5, Symbol XR400, and ThingMagic Mercury4.

"We're going to be shipping production volumes -- millions of units -- in August," said Sabetti. There is a lead time between when a chip is manufactured and when the resulting tag is converted and ready for deployment. So with chip production in August, TI Gen2 silicon could be in real-world deployment as early as September. "We've already taken orders for the product," he said. "We have production material running through our wafer fab as we speak."

Recall that Impinj is the only company with Gen2 silicon in production, meaning that essentially every deployed Gen2 tag to date uses the Impinj Monza chip (see New RFID Chip Product Launch Imminent). The question is what impact, if any, a Gen2 chip alternative will have on the RFID market. Reik Read, analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co., speculates that it could provide a boon to end-user confidence in RFID generally. "End users like to see more choices within any industry, so the fact that you'll have more guys in the [Gen2 silicon] marketplace will make end users more comfortable," he told RFID Update. TI's Sabetti concurred: "It's hard to believe that any one event is going to dramatically change market dynamics ... but this is going to bolster confidence in going forward with deployment."

Read the announcement from Texas Instruments
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