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Three RFID Chip Makers Agree on Serialization Approach

The system should make managing serial numbers easier for end users, while providing advanced users with the flexibility they want.
By Mark Roberti
Mar 28, 2012Three leading suppliers of microchips for passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) radio frequency identification transponders based on EPCglobal's second-generation air-interface standard have reached an agreement regarding a coordinated method for end users to avoid duplicating serial numbers when using chip-based serial numbers from different RFID chip companies. This approach has been dubbed Multi-vendor Chip-based Serialization (MCS).

A 96-bit Electronic Product Code (EPC) format used for consumer products has 38 bits designated for the serial number portion of an EPC; the other 58 bits are utilized to identify the type of product being tagged, as well as the company that manufactured that product. The three vendors—Alien Technology, Impinj and NXP Semiconductors—have agreed to a common framework for assigning the 38-bit EPC serial number based on the Tag ID (TID), a unique 72- to 168-bit number burned into the chip during manufacture.

Each chipmaker will develop a formula for extracting 35 bits from the TID. These 35 bits, combined with a three-bit code used to identify the chipmaker, would be utilized to create a unique 38-bit EPC number for that chip. Each formula will be slightly different, but by agreeing to a prefix for identifying a particular chip manufacturer, the three companies are ensuring that there would be no duplication of EPC serial numbers created in this manner.

The proposal is not a standard, and end users will not be required to use this approach, according to Ken Traub, a consultant for GS1 US, who, along with Gena Morgan, GS1 US' program manager, facilitated a working group aimed at developing a serialization standard. The working group, however, has since determined that there was no one-size-fits-all solution for 96-bit EPCs. Guidelines being drafted by GS1 US indicate that brand owners are required to manage the serial numbers placed on their products.

But MCS offers end users a convenient option, if they wish to choose "chip-based serialization" with serial numbers managed by the chipmakers. Chip-based serialization refers to having the serial number determined by the TID on the chip. The alternative to chip-based serialization is "IT-based serialization," in which serial numbers are created and managed by software deployed by the end user. Such software typically utilizes a database to track which serial numbers have been used, so that the same number is not assigned twice.

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