New Type 5 NFC Chip Boasts Long Range, Tamper Detection

By Claire Swedberg

STMicroelectronics' ST25TV chip can be read via ISO 15693-compliant readers, as well as NFC-enabled mobile phones, resulting in tags that can be used from the point of manufacture to consumer use with a limited footprint for small packaging.

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Global semiconductor company STMicroeletronics has released a Type 5 Near Field Communication (NFC) tag chip that, according to the company, provides a longer read range than other NFC tag types, as well as the low power that comes with the NFC Type 5 tag operation specification, and tamper protection. Its combination of long-range and tamper-detection qualities, the company reports, makes the chip a good product for the use of NFC and RFID to track a product from the point of manufacture through consumer engagement, even after a product has been purchased.

The ST25TV provides ISO 15693 protocol-compliant RFID tag reading at HF 13.56 MHz, as well as NFC tag reading with cell phones by consumers or retailers. Because ISO 15693 transmission offers a longer read distance, it can be used for supply chain tracking, but also can accommodate a smaller antenna for NFC reads, in order to provide a similar transmission distance of other NFC types with larger antennas.

The Type 5 specification for NFC tags was published by the NFC Forum in 2015 (see NFC Forum Releases Spec Supporting Use of ISO 15693 Tags). It allows NFC tags to operate with both ISO 15693 and NFC Type 5 standards, and thereby makes them more flexible for use—they can be read by HF RFID readers at relatively long distances, or by smartphones from a few centimeters away.

Although there are other Type 5-based NFC chips on the market, says Christophe Cataldo, STMicroelectronics’ marketing and business-development manager, his firm is one of the few that offers tamper resistance with Type 5 functionality. The chip comes with a loop that detects when a tag has been tampered with (the tamper loop opens if someone tears a label in an attempt to remove it or open a package), and then transmits a response to any interrogation, indicating the tag has been damaged.

The ST25TV’s longer read range is key for many NFC reading use cases, Cataldo says, “because it improves user experience. Consumers want an easy way to tap and connect,” first and foremost. Although most new iOS and Android handsets have NFC readers built into them, he notes, the reader antenna’s location varies. That means when consumers want to read a non-Type 5 NFC tag, they must position the phone in their hand properly so as to ensure the reader antenna comes within a few centimeters of the tag.

In such cases, Cataldo says, just a few millimeters or more can make the difference between a quick and easy tap to read a tag, and a cumbersome process of adjusting and readjusting the phone to capture a transmission. Moreover, because the range is longer, label manufacturers can build cloud-based brand protection or other NFC labels into packaging that have smaller antennas and, therefore, require less space in the packaging. Cataldo estimates that an NFC tag, depending on the antenna design, could be as small as a centimeter square.

The chip also comes with a cloning prevention feature in the form of a digital signature, which is captured at the same time as the 64-bit ID, every time the tag is read. “By putting the signature on the chip, we are then proving it is an original [chip],” Cataldo states. A cloned tag would have the identifier without the signature and thus could be detected as a fake.

In addition, the chip comes with password protection, but could remain in a “non-detect” mode without a password. Users would need to enter a recognized 128-bit password before communicating with the tag. That feature can be provided at block levels so that some sections of data could be password-protected, while others would not need to be.

Increasingly, companies are developing Web-based apps that enable consumers to interact with NFC tags without downloading an app on their phones. With the proliferation of NFC tags expected in the future, Web app users can engage with NFC tags without being burdened with an excessive number of apps. Android phones support these Web-based apps with NFC reads. The new chip’s password-protection functionality would work with the Web-based apps, as well as apps downloaded onto a phone, enabling a user to input and store the password.

The ST25TV High Density IC is designed for asset tracking and other long-range operations, with a transmission speed of up to 53 kilobits per second. The company also sells a ST25TA Low Density NFC chip using NFC Type 4, compliant with the ISO 14443 standard, that also comes with data protection and tamper detection, but offers a shorter read range and transmits at 106 kilobits per second.

What’s more, the chip offers privacy features so that users could either kill the chip entirely if necessary (such as at the request of a consumer buying a product), or make it untraceable so that it could not be read by unauthorized parties. These features are useful in Europe, where the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)—issued this past spring—requires companies to offer consumers with a means to protect personal data, the company reports.

The ST25TV chip can also be used as an electronic article surveillance (EAS) device in libraries, since it can be interrogated by ISO 15693-compliant readers at an exit, as patrons walk through portals holding books.

The new IC is expected to enable more NFC products for brands that will ultimately help companies engage with their customers, Cataldo says. “Today, for brands, there is typically no feedback from the customer,” he explains. Once a consumer purchases a product, a company has little understanding of his or her experience with it. With an NFC tag built into packaging, companies will have a means to continue a dialog with those customers by offering them coupons or information about a product, or inviting them to provide feedback.

Some companies that use STMicroelectronics’ existing NFC chip, the LRI2K, are now testing the new ST25TV02K, while the firm is also targeting new customers with the Type 5 chip. STMicroelectronics has been selling the chips for approximately two months, but is announcing the release now for high-volume orders. The chip is priced at 10 cents apiece for orders of 1,000 or more.