Century Link America Opens Doors for RFID Partners

The Chinese tag producer has launched a North American division to better meet the needs of systems integrators developing and ordering tags for customers' solutions, such as hybrid EAS-RFID systems for retailers.
Published: October 15, 2015

Hangzhou Century Link Technology Co. is bringing its RFID technology to North America with a new office in Schaumburg, Ill., aimed at offering better service and support to its partners—systems integrators in the region. Century Link America will include a sales team that will work with companies using Century Link products in their RFID-based solutions. One partner is Universal Surveillance Systems (USS), which makes custom RFID and electronic article surveillance (EAS) solutions for its clients—which, according to the company, are most major U.S. retailers.

By opening a site in Schaumburg, Century Link will be able to personalize tag design, as well as provide assistance with tag selection, pre-encoding and printing services to North American partners, according to Lou Leuzzi, Century Link America’s senior VP. The company manufactures tags for item-level tracking of merchandise in retail stores, as well as for asset-management applications in the health-care, industrial, manufacturing and logistics sectors.

Century Link’s CE36071, made with an Impinj Monza 4QT chip, is a durable, reusable hangtag for small items like jewelry, glasses and watches.

Founded in 2012, Century Link develops and manufactures a range of passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) and high-frequency (HF) tags. Its passive UHF RFID tags come in a wide variety of form factors, including on-metal, windshield, wristband and sew-in laundry models, and are made with a variety of chip types, including Alien Technology‘s Higgs3 IC, or Impinj‘s Monza 4QT or Monza R6 IC. Century Link also makes tag form factors such as lock-removable tags or hang-on models that, according to the company, can be easily affixed to unusually shaped products.

Lou Leuzzi, Century Link America’s senior VP

In the past, Leuzzi says, most U.S.-based end users of Century Link products employed EAS technology to prevent shrinkage of goods, with minimal use of RFID. That is changing, he notes, as “more and more people are beyond the piloting phase [for RFID],” and are using the technology to track assets and manage apparel in stores.

In China and North America, Century Link sells its solutions to retailers and other end-user customers through its channel of systems integrators.

“When people talk about retail, they typically require tagging of specialty items,” Leuzzi says, beyond the more standard apparel that can be tagged with standard adhesive disposable tags. For specialty items, he adds, “retailers need specialized tags” to track everything from shoes to baseball bats, golf clubs and jewelry. “What separates us [from other RFID tag manufacturers] is our broad product line.”

The tags are used in supply chain management and asset-management applications, in addition to retail. The company’s key strategic channel partners, Leuzzi says, are Zebra Technologies, DominateRFID and Honeywell, which sell their own solutions to manufacturers, health-care companies, logistics firms and other businesses.

The Century Link America office has only a half-dozen employees now, but plans to increase its numbers in January 2016, in order to provide more sales and tag-design support.

The T828 integrates an Alien Higgs3 chip into a conventional EAS hard tag, for such applications as apparel and retail shrinkage control, as well as inventory and supply chain management.

Although the tags that Century Link America’s sales team is selling are still manufactured in China, the fact that Century Link now has a North American office means that Canadian, U.S. or Mexican companies can order customized products more efficiently. It also means that the tags will be in hand within two to four weeks, the firm reports, even if they are “made from scratch.”

DominateRFID uses Century Link tags for such solutions as tracking smart containers and metal assets, as well as for retail applications like tracking jewelry and other merchandise at the item level, along with loss prevention. “We started using Century tags in April of this year,” says George Brown, DominateRFID’s sales director. “We have built a very good relationship with Century after several successful RFID projects,” he states. The company is now preparing to deploy Century Link’s towel and laundry tags as part of an inventory-management and loss-prevention application for a hotel and health club.

Mike Nichols, Honeywell Sensing & Productivity Solutions’ RFID leader for North America, says his company is using RFID tags from Century Link as part of an asset-management solution that it offers to its customers. “The primary issue is finding a variety of RFID tags that will provide the best performance across a breadth of item constitutions and sizes,” he explains. Therefore, Nichols says, the wide selection of tags provided by Century Link is a benefit to the company.

Universal Surveillance Systems is one of the companies in North America that can require specialized tags. “We have a long history with Century,” says Tony Oliver, USS’ CTO. The firm, based in California, is one of the largest American loss-prevention technology companies specializing in EAS tags and systems to deter and catch shoplifters. USS also provides access-control and video-surveillance systems—and, increasingly, RFID solutions.

During the past 18 months, Oliver says, his company has been experiencing a growing interest from retailers to build RFID systems into their existing security technology, or launching an RFID solution independently for inventory-management purposes. USS differentiates itself from its competitors by offering customized solutions based on customers’ needs—and those solutions frequently include RFID, in which case Century Link tags are often built into the system.

The CE26001, made with an NXP Icode SLI chip, is a passive 13.56 MHz tag designed for the management of metal cylinders.

“We’re independent when it comes to software and hardware,” Oliver says. “We make something work for our customers’ needs.” USS launched in 1995 as an RFID company, but branched into providing EAS systems when RFID adoption failed to grow at the rate anticipated at that time. It has since, however, seen RFID moving back to the forefront.

“More retailers are open to RFID, and there’s more understanding of what the technology is capable of,” Oliver reports.

USS provides its customers with Century Link tags in conjunction with a variety of applications. The most basic application typically consists of reading products’ RFID tags in order to determine when inventory needs to be replenished in the back room, and when it needs to be moved to the sales floor from the back room once shelves begin to empty.

Another common use of RFID is based on security at cash registers. For instance, a register can be locked until an RFID reader installed in or near the machine detects an associate’s RFID-tagged ID badge, at which time the register will automatically unlock. When the worker walks away, the reader will no longer detect his or her badge’s RFID tag, prompting the cash register to relock.

Consumer-based applications can include a tablet. In this case, if a shopper were to visit, for instance, a department store’s shoe department, he could pick up a tablet that could be used to access data. He could then pick up a shoe that interested him, and an RFID reader linked to the tablet would detect that action and send an update to the software operating on the store’s server, indicating which shoe was being looked at. The customer could then view display data about that shoe, provided by the software.

Century Link’s CE36003 is an on-metal UHF tag designed for identifying assets, electrical appliances and metal shelves in warehouses.

Such a system could also provide information in a changing room if a customer took an item of clothing into that room along with a store’s tablet. A reader mounted in the changing room would interrogate that garment’s tag and forward data about the item, along with accessories that could go with it, to the tablet. The customer could also use the tablet to ask the sales staff to bring another size or color to the changing room.

With RFID use growing, Oliver predicts there will be a surge in the use of active 2.4 GHz RFID tags built into EAS tags. “It’s more cost-effective for the retailer,” he explains, since it provides location-based data. Using active RFID rather than passive tags would make that location-based data available without the cost of installing a multitude of antennas around a store or back room.

Century Link can also develop and provide active tags as needed, Leuzzi says, though they would be jointly developed for a particular customer’s needs. “In fact, [our 2.4 GHz active tags] are already sold to the Chinese government and for use in city public asset control,” he states.