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Chip-size EPC Gen 2 Tag Promises to Enable New Applications

FEC International is marketing a tag made with NXP Semiconductors' Ucode G2XM chip and an antenna that fits directly onto the IC's surface, resulting in a tag approximately the size of a grain of sand.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 27, 2010Malaysian chip manufacturer FEC International has released what it believes is the first tag antenna designed to fit on an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID chip, thereby resulting in a fully functioning EPC RFID tag about the size of a grain of sand. NXP Semiconductors is promoting the FEC antenna for use on its Ucode G2XM chip, which measures just 0.46 millimeter by 0.48 millimeter (0.018 inch by 0.019 inch). According to FEC, an IC featuring the company's On-Chip Antenna (OCA) design can be used for tracking documents, as well as for authenticating high-value consumer items, such as clothing, shoes or handbags.

While other RFID chip providers have developed several ICs with on-board antennas that allow them to scale down tag size (see Hitachi Unveils Integrated RFID Antenna, Institute Designs Tag With Built-in Antenna and Chip Size Passive RFID Tag Promises Long Range), NXP and FEC indicate that until now, there has been no commercially available EPC Gen 2 UHF chip with an onboard antenna.

An EPC Gen 2 tag composed of an NXP Ucode G2XM chip and an embedded FEC antenna.
In the past, FEC had previously developed on-board antenna chips made with ICs known as "Malaysia Microchips," or MMs (see First Multifrequency Chip Unveiled). The MM chips, however, employ proprietary RFID specifications. Plans for developing an antenna that can be formed on an EPC Gen 2 chip began in November 2008, says Eiji Murakoso, the general manager of FEC's planning and development division. The firm began designing a multi-layer antenna that fits onto an EPC chip in spring 2009, and started testing a completed antenna on an EPC Gen 2 chip this year.

"Previously, our company had been developing OCA product based on the MM chip's original protocol," Murakoso says. "However, we decided to proceed with the development (to meet) demand from the market for an EPC-compliant OCA product. Technically, all the know-how cultivated in previous OCA development also appears in the current product development."

End users could attach or embed the tiny chip-size EPC Gen 2 tags on or within small items in such a way that the tags could be hidden, or have a very small footprint that would not obscure something like text on a paper document. The tags have a read range of just 1 millimeter (0.04 inch), and must be interrogated by a handheld RFID reader with an antenna specially designed for reading the OCA chip.

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