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New Alien RFID Chip Adds Memory, Security, Performance

Alien Technology introduced a Gen2-compliant RFID chip with 512 bits of user-programmable memory. Alien's new H3 Higgs chip also offers password protection for reading and writing. The company claims the chip is 25 percent more sensitive than previous-generation products, providing improved performance and read range.
Apr 07, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

April 7, 2008—Alien Technology today announced a new passive Gen2 chip with extended memory and security features. Alien's new H3 "Higgs" chip has 512 bits of user memory that can be password-protected to prevent unauthorized reads. Alien has shipped samples of the chip to customers and partners and plans to have it in full production this summer.

"We've worked diligently to develop a chip that meets the needs of emerging RFID segments such as product anti-counterfeiting, pedigrees, and airline baggage tagging," Bill Brown, Alien's senior product marketing manager, told RFID Update. "Even though it has extended features, this tag is compatible with all existing Gen2 readers."

H3 is an addition to Alien's line of RFID chips that has more read sensitivity, memory, and security than the company's other products. The chip, which is slightly smaller than the company's H2 Higgs product, is 25 percent more sensitive, according to Alien.

"There is more to sensitivity than read range," said Brown. "Sensitivity is very important to read range. But sensitivity also relates to how well you can read tags on hard-to-read objects and in difficult environments, such as reading tags on water bottles, or reading all the items in a densely packed case. Higher sensitivity also lets you build a smaller tag with the same performance as you'd get from a traditionally larger tag."

The Alien H3 chip makes use of security features that the Gen2 standard supports but that have not been widely implemented. Different levels of protection can be applied to different portions of chip memory, for example. Also, chips can be password-protected against both reading and writing.

"A lot of people we work with are very surprised when they learn the password on current RFID tags only prevents you from writing to the tag, not from reading the tag," Brown said. Alien has implemented a security feature that effectively requires the tag to authenticate the reader attempting to access it before transmitting data. The feature would be effective to protect users from the threat of tag skimming, which is currently making news (see Washington RFID Bill Expected to Become Law Today).

Packing more memory into a smaller chip wasn't especially challenging, according to Brown. Alien's H2 chips have 96 bits of user memory, enough to encode a common EPC number. Each H3 chip is factory encoded with an unalterable 64-bit ID, which is suitable for product authentication and other identification, and does not consume the 512 bits of memory that users can encode.

"The memory area of the H3 chip is actually smaller than that of the H2," Brown said. "[Increasing] memory is not the hard part. The question has been: 'Is there a market for a 512-bit chip?'"

Alien now believes the answer is yes. The company says there is growing interest in extended-memory RFID tags for various applications, such airline baggage handling, where the tag is updated as it passes through various transfer points; electronic pedigree documentation for pharmaceutical products; and other chain-of-custody applications.

Other RFID chipmakers are also promoting higher-memory products. Last fall NXP released a 512-bit Gen2 chip (see NXP Doubles Memory on Gen2 RFID Chips), and in January Fujitsu raised the bar with a 64 kilobyte offering (see Fujitsu Announces Roomy 64KB Gen2 RFID Tag).
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