Apple Patent Uses RFID for Home Networking

Apple Computer has filed a patent which uses RFID to greatly simplify the process of setting up and configuring a wireless home network.
Published: March 9, 2007

This article was originally published by RFID Update.

March 9, 2007—Unwired View has uncovered a patent filed by Apple for a system which uses RFID to simplify the process of setting up and configuring a wireless home network. Entitled “RFID network arrangement”, the patent is available for download here.

The idea is that the network’s wireless router be equipped with an RFID reader. Each device that the user wants to include on the network — a laptop, printer, PDA, secondary router, repeater, even an iPod — is equipped with an RFID tag. When such a device is brought into proximity of the reader-equipped wireless router, the reader encodes the device’s RFID tag with all the necessary information used to configure a network connection. Once the information is loaded onto the tag, the device uses it to self-configure a connection to the network. The user does not have to enter any information or do anything other than pass the device in front of the router. “Historically,” reads the patent, “configuring these parameters on the device and base station has required manual configuration by the user.”

The system can also handle common wireless authentication protocols, like WPA and WEP, which further enhances the system’s benefit. “The complexity of configuring wireless devices and wireless network access points is increased when various security protocols are enabled… What is needed is a way to simplify the configuration of wireless network devices and access points.” Because Apple’s system supports these security protocols, “a reasonable level of security may thus be obtained without the user being required to manually configure the security settings.”

The RFID system also enables so-called “primitive” devices — those without standard user-input interfaces like keypads — to easily connect to a wireless network. Printers are an example. “Because printers typically lack alphanumeric input devices and displays, it would be difficult to configure such a device to operate over a wireless network,” asserts the patent.

Another example is a remote control for music applications like iTunes that play the music of a personal computer connected to the wireless network. Typically, remote controls rely on line-of-site infrared to communicate commands to the end device. This means both the remote control and the end device — in this case, a personal computer — need to be equipped with infrared technology. But if both devices were WiFi-equipped, infrared could be taken out of the equation, because the remote control commands would pass over the wireless network. The question becomes how to configure such a remote control to connect to the wireless network, since it likely only has buttons for play, pause, stop, volume, etc. With Apple’s RFID system, “such a remote control could be configured merely by bringing it into proximity with the [reader-equipped wireless router].”

A final notable convenience of Apple’s invention is the fact that the tagged devices do not need to be turned on when they are swept by the router. Because the RFID is self-powered (the patent does not specify whether it is active or passive), the information is communicated from the reader to the tag irrespective of the device’s state. If the device is off at the moment of transfer, the network information stored on the tag is simply used by the device later, once it is powered on.