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New RFID Handheld Provides Range, Price Breakthroughs

Convergence Systems Limited (CSL) introduced a $2,500 handheld RFID reader with 25-foot read range for UHF tags. The price and range each represent significant improvements over other handheld UHF readers. The company thinks the product's price and performance could drive increased RFID adoption.
Oct 29, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

October 29, 2008—Convergence Systems Limited (CSL), an RFID equipment manufacturer headquartered in Hong Kong, announced a new handheld UHF reader the company says breaks price and performance barriers for the product category. According to CSL, read range exceeds 25 feet -- a range usually available only from fixed-position readers -- and up to 400 tags per second can be read. List prices range from $1,950 to $2,500, depending on the configuration. The highest end of the price range is still below the price for many other handheld readers currently on the market.

The CS101 supports all UHF frequency bands used worldwide and can read ISO 18000-6 and Gen2-standard tags. It has not been certified by EPCglobal, and CSL hasn't decided whether to pursue EPC interoperability certification, spokesperson Dimitri Desmons told RFID Update. "It has passed equivalent tests conducted by CSL, as well as TTA tests (the Korean agency who used EPCglobal tests for their own certification program). We have also tested the unit for interoperability with a broad variety of tags using chips certified for interoperability," Desmons said in an e-mail. "Therefore, CSL is confident that the CS101 would pass EPCglobal's certification testing in the event that market conditions would actually require obtaining this (expensive) certificate."

The CS101 runs the Microsoft Windows CE 5.0 operating system, offers 802.11b/g WiFi, USB and RS-232 connectivity, has a full QWERTY keyboard, a 3.5-inch touchscreen display and integrated bar code reader. CSL says the battery life is 1.5 hours in continuous read mode and 20 hours on standby. It is IP65 rated for drop resistance and weighs 2.6 pounds.

The price and performance make the CS101 seem to good to be true, so RFID Update asked Carl Brown of systems integration firm SimplyRFID if it is. SimplyRFID has evaluated the CS101 and provided it to a customer for additional evaluation. Brown was extremely impressed with the product's performance, but noted a couple drawbacks.

"The read range is outrageous. If we hadn't seen it, we wouldn't have believed it," said Brown, whose concerns mostly relate to the usability. "It's massive, but it works."

Brown also noted the CS101 has a landscape-mode display, rather than the much more common vertical screen orientation. That will require existing mobile applications to be rewritten so user screens display properly. This won't be a major obstacle because the computer uses a Windows operating system, Brown said.

SimplyRFID is currently working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to determine the feasibility of using RFID to track file folders. SimplyRFID provided the DHS with three handheld RFID readers to evaluate. "The CS101 was the only one they found worthy of continuing with for a pilot application," Brown said.

Convergence Systems believes the performance will enable new types of handheld RFID applications, and that the price will help spur adoption. One of the product features is what CSL calls "Geiger counter mode," which enables users to locate a specific tagged item within a group. Users enter the item they want to find, and the reader generates an audible signal that gets louder as it gets closer to the desired item. Potential applications include finding specific apparel items in retail inventory applications, file folders and assembly components.

Boeing is very impressed with the functionality of the CS101's 'Geiger counter' mode," Steve Villa, research engineer at Boeing, said in CSL's announcement. "In this mode, the reader's ability to singulate and locate tags, even in a highly reflective environment, is excellent."

The CS101 is available in North America and Asia now and European certification is expected in a few weeks, Desmons said. The company sells it through reseller partners and will also offer it on an OEM basis.
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