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RFID News Roundup

French mobile operators expect to ship 1 million NFC handsets in 2011; Zebra divests Navis and parts of WhereNet; Surfaceslab intros RFID-enabled Smart Panel for hanging apparel; Smartrac buys into Indian RFID company; DockOn adds circular polarized antenna designs to portfolio; Alliance Tech to take over Fish's trade show and conference business; TagMaster partners with 7iD.
Feb 17, 2011The following are news announcements made during the past week.

French Mobile Operators Expect to Ship 1 Million NFC Handsets in 2011
Following on the heels of several Near Field Communications (NFC)-enabled handset pilots carried out in France (see Cityzi Seeks to Spur Adoption of NFC RFID Technology and RFID News Roundup: Orange Plans European-wide Launch of NFC-enabled SIM Cards, Handsets), the Association Francaise pour le Sans Contact Mobile (AFSCM ) has announced that its members expect to distribute 1 million NFC-enabled handsets this year. AFSCM, a nonprofit group comprising a number of telecommunications and technology companies, was established in 2008 by French mobile network operators France Telecom-Orange, Bouygues Télécom and SFR, in order to boost the adoption of NFC and contactless technologies. The organization's goal is to make NFC mobile handsets widely available across the nation. The Cityzi pilots, first launched in Nice, included NFC-enabled phones that function as bus and light-rail tickets, and loyalty devices for shopping at participating stores, as well as for use with smart posters that provide tourist information about the city. The operators are now marketing NFC handsets to French consumers, who will be able to use them to make purchases at retailers equipped with compatible payment terminals, as well as for public transport, access to real-time bus and tram timetables, money-off coupons, tourist information, on-demand advertising and more. According to AFSCM, the services will be embedded on Cityzi's subscriber identity module (SIM) card, making them secure (in line with the strictest current standards) and transferable between handsets, while also safeguarding user data confidentiality. New applications can be downloaded remotely via the telecom operators' networks to the SIM cards of Cityzi customers, who will then be able to choose from an increasingly broad range of services provided by the project's partners. This year, AFSCM reports, mobile handset manufacturers will offer a wide range of contactless mobile devices, including conventional handsets and smartphones.

Zebra Divests Navis and Parts of WhereNet
Approximately three and a half years after buying Navis, which manufactures software designed to help companies manage logistics and goods across the supply chain, Zebra Technologies has agreed to sell its Navis business to Cargotec for approximately $190 million in cash. Zebra acquired Navis in 2007 for $145 million (see Zebra Buys Navis, Proveo). Cargotec operates a global network of cargo- and load-handling solutions. The transaction is expected to be completed during the first quarter of 2011, subject to regulatory approvals, customary closing conditions and working capital adjustments. Zebra estimates that the sale will result in an after-tax gain of $30 million to $40 million, which will be recorded in the period during which the transaction is completed. The transaction also includes certain business operations serving marine-terminal customers that comprised a small portion of the company's 2007 acquisition of WhereNet (see Zebra Buys WhereNet), including the WhereNet Marine Terminal Solution product line. All other elements of WhereNet, such as real-time location systems (RTLS), tags and readers, will remain with Zebra. Zebra's executives say the divestiture marks the company's efforts to focus on its core business of providing solutions for asset tracking, as well as for specialty-printing, RFID and RTLS technologies. "Following the sale of Navis, Zebra will benefit from a sharper focus on its core business to drive consistent long-term growth, extend industry leadership and deliver greater returns to shareholders," said Anders Gustafsson, Zebra's CEO, in a prepared statement. Based on a strategic review of its business, Zebra indicates, it determined that the highly industry-specific nature of Navis limited its application in other industries, and was insufficiently aligned with the core business. According to Cargotec's executives, the addition of Navis will strengthen the company's offerings. Marine container terminals are Navis' core market, the officials note, and the Navis solutions are used in more than 50 countries. Navis, founded in 1988, is headquartered in Oakland, Calif. The firm currently has more than 300 employees, the majority of whom are located in the United States and India. Its sales are expected to be around $70 million this year, with approximately 40 percent recurring sales. Navis will continue conducting business with its customers as an independent part of Cargotec, irrespective of equipment supplier, and Navis' reporting will be consolidated into Cargotec's financial reporting once the transaction has been completed.

Surfaceslab Intros RFID-enabled Smart Panel for Hanging Apparel
Surfaceslab, a technology firm that develops smart surfaces, is launching its RFID-based Smart Panel, designed for fashion retail management. The Smart Panel is the result of development with Creativesystems, focused on the implementation of RFID technology, and Vicaima, a Portuguese producer of interior doors, with research from the Instituto de Telecomunicações. It leverages the same technology in smart floors being used at Fly London, a retail store in Lisbon, Portugal (see Fly London Uses RFID to Manage Inventory, and Take Customers Around the World). "The retail market now presents emerging needs that are a challenge for us," says Pedro França, Surfaceslab's business manager. "The Smart Panel development responds to the urgent and ongoing need to identify and control hanged products, thus opening new possibilities in stock monitoring by allowing, among other advantages, more optimized replenishment processes." The Smart Panel, which leverages EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID technology, is designed to identify and quantify, in real time, hanging apparel placed within its reading area, which the company says is intended to enable online, automated inventory tracking, while also providing greater flexibility to replenishment models of products arranged vertically. That is because the Smart Panel can read RFID tags containing data regarding each hanging item, and that information can be shared with inventory systems and other back-end systems. In addition, the Smart Panel can be used to collect product information that can be shared with shoppers in real time, via nearby displays. According to França, the panels can be installed using mounting brackets in order to affix them to walls (which can be made of wood or brick), and the mounting process can be adapted to the store's existing floor design. Each Smart Panel has an embedded antenna, and is connected to a UHF RFID reader (or to a multiplexer, and then to a reader). When tagged products are placed in or moved out of a Smart Panel's reading zone, the company reports, the software updates the location information about each tag ID read and collected. Each panel's reading zone is very defined; the reading area depends on the panel's dimensions, but the read distance out from the panel is 50 centimeters (20 inches). For example, a Smart Panel can measure 100 centimeters by 100 centimeters (39 inches by 39 inches) in length and width, thus providing a confined reading zone of 100 centimeters by 100 centimeters by 50 centimeters. The tags—such as those from Alien Technology, Avery Dennison and UPM RFID—are normally placed on clothes. The Smart Panel also works with various fashion- and apparel-tagging approaches currently available on the market, such as RFID tags embedded in hangtags, care and textile labels, and hard tags.

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