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New ThingMagic RFID Reader Cuts Cost, Size, and Power

ThingMagic's new Astra RFID reader is a small form-factor device that utilizes Power over Ethernet technology to reduce the cost of deployment.
Jul 30, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

July 30, 2008—Deploying RFID reader infrastructure can be an expensive and complex task, requiring a significant amount of new cabling depending on the site and application. With its new Astra integrated RFID reader/antenna, ThingMagic may have removed some of the cost and labor hurdles to deploying an RFID infrastructure.

The Astra is a low-profile unit (just 10.2 by 10.2 by 3 inches) with both WiFi and Power over Ethernet (PoE) options that make it much easier to install. The PoE technology eliminates the need to run power cabling to the device, and its small footprint could make it attractive for office and healthcare environments. With a list price of $995, it's also much less expensive than comparable readers.

"What we've heard from our retail supply chain customers is that the cost of cabling is a significant cost of installing these devices," says Yael Maguire, ThingMagic co-founder and CTO. "You need power and Ethernet, as well as coaxial for each antenna, and what we heard from some of the bigger companies was that it cost as much as $600 per cable to install. You could quickly outstrip the cost of the reader just in the installation."

To help reduce those costs, ThingMagic looked to the wireless LAN industry for inspiration. Power over Ethernet is common in that market, but provided only about half the wattage required by the typical RFID reader.

"We designed the unit to consume substantially less power, and we did some work to make sure the network component also used less power," Maguire says.

The EPCglobal Gen2 reader has an integrated 865-956 MHz antenna, as well as a port to add an additional antenna. The Astra is based on ThingMagic's Mercury5e embedded reader module, and has a read range of up to 30 feet.

"This is significantly smaller than anything else I've seen out there, and it's really the first time we've seen a major RFID provider release something under $1,000 with the antenna included," says Carl Brown, president of SimplyRFID, an RFID solution provider based in Warrenton, VA.

The PoE functionality is also an important innovation, Brown says, because it opens up the possibility of expanded deployments in environments that previously weren't possible. "You just pull one cable instead of two, and you don't have to have a certified electrician involved," Brown says. "When you're doing something in an office environment, the form factor will be more aesthetically pleasing, too."

ThingMagic has targeted the Astra at document tracking and healthcare applications, where cabling issues and reader footprint are important considerations. "In those environments, having a big antenna and running all the cabling are very daunting to end users," Maguire says. "We really wanted to offer them the convenience of placing the reader behind a wall or inside a ceiling."

According to Maguire, InnerWireless has already deployed the Astra at a customer site.

Reducing the price of the reader was also an important consideration for ThingMagic, and Maguire says he hopes that lower-cost units can help expand the RFID market moving forward.

"By eliminating the cabling and standardizing the networking components, we wanted to bring down the price point of RFID so people can install it anywhere," Maguire says. "With this platform, we hope other companies can utilize these components to offer different form factors that can go into a wider variety of applications as well."
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