New Chip Features Privacy Function for European Retailers

By Claire Swedberg

Impinj's latest chip, the Monza R6-A, offers privacy controls and sustainability features.

RAIN RFID solutions company Impinj is rounding out its Monza R6 silicon offering with a new UHF RFID tag chip that enables privacy settings for retailers. The chip is a response to requests from European retailers for privacy with the same performance of the company's existing Monza R6 product family, says Carl Brasek, Impinj's senior director of silicon products. The new chip enables a consumer to ensure his or her privacy after purchasing a tagged item, he explains, without requiring the tag to be removed or disabled. According to Impinj, this feature is known as the short-range mode.

Consumers in Europe have a higher sensitivity to privacy concerns, on average, than those elsewhere, Impinj reports. In fact, the European Commission requires that those using RFID technology must develop a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) for each application. This effort falls within the scope of the continent's Privacy by Design approach of embedding privacy into the design of technologies.

That means retailers must be able to ensure that consumer privacy is protected when they purchase an RFID-tagged item. "We listened very carefully to our European retailer customers," Brasek says. "Their top priorities are privacy and sustainability." According to Impinj, the Monza R6-A's sustainable features are part of the existing Monza R6 chip family, which consists of copper pads with a reduced carbon footprint, that serve as an alternative to the more traditional gold bumps for connecting the chip to the antenna and substrate.

Worldwide, retailers have been challenged with balancing consumer privacy and convenience—especially when it comes to returned apparel or other RFID-tagged products. European retailers may deploy a system to remove or permanently disable a tag, upon request, before a customer takes the corresponding purchased product out of the store. That point-of-sale service is often referred to as a kill station, and is used to ensure that a tag canot be read by a third party outside the retailer's premises.

The problem with this approach, Brasek says, is that "killed" tags cannot be read any longer, including when a product is returned. The product thus becomes more difficult to identify if returned, and requires a new tag and re-entry in the retailer's inventory-management system.

The Monza R6 chip was designed, in part, with the North American market in mind (see New Impinj Chip Promises Higher Sensitivity, Read Range and Flexibility), but this initial offering did not feature the privacy features. Impinj then released the Monza R6-P for the Asia-Pacific region, which comes with the privacy feature, enabling the tag chip to be switched to short read range mode—about one-tenth the range of standard mode—as well as the option for complete deactivation. The Monza R6-P comes with 64 bits of additional user memory to help users better identify the source and origins of a tagged product, based on additional ID numbers.

The latest chip (the Monza R6-A) serves as a compromise, Impinj indicates, offering the privacy features without the additional user memory of the Monza R6-P, and is priced between the costs of the Monza R6 and the Monza R6-P. The chip, with its Enduro chip-to-antenna connectivity, features the same environmental sustainability features as the other Monza R6 products. It uses copper pads as connectors, which means the Monza R6-A itself has a much smaller carbon footprint than chips utilizing gold bumps instead. For every billion chips produced, the company reports, the Monza R6-A reduces carbon-dioxide emissions by approximately 110 metric tons, compared to the levels of gold-bumped chips.

"We are at the forefront of sustainability," Brasek states. He cites the fact that, in addition to the Enduro pads, on chips, the Impinj wafers themselves are housed in metal rings that are shipped back to Impinj and its partners for reuse, as opposed to the more commonly used plastic disposable rings. Although the Monza R6-A was designed at the request of European retailers, he says, it is available worldwide. He anticipates retailers in other geographies to be interested in the privacy features as well.