Ruggedized Reader Brings RFID Out of the Building

Published: January 30, 2024

Zebra’s new FXR90 can accommodate extreme weather conditions, includes cellular connectivity to read RFID tag in vehicles, outdoors

RFID tag readings have traditionally been largely restricted to indoor portals or desktops, with recent expansion to handheld readers that are more mobile to accommodate outdoor environments and remote locations.

Zebra Technologies aims to shift that paradigm again with the release of its FXR90 rugged UHF RFID fixed reader.

The new reader is designed to be installed in places RFID readers rarely go—outdoor workspaces, trucks and vans, and industrial sites with harsh conditions. It comes with ruggedization, wireless connectivity and higher performance than predecessor RFID readers, the company reports.

Designed for Punishing Conditions

The reader is built for broad applicability across retail, logistics or manufacturing, says Michael Fein, Zebra’s director of product management, making it possible for companies to read tags in places that had often been out of reach of RFID-based data in the past.

The reader is unlike anything else Zebra has released, and unlike other readers in the market, Fein says.

The new reader, showcased at the NRF 2024 retail show in New York in January, features dual IP65 and IP67 ratings to withstand extreme temperature ranges, dirt and water, as well as daily washdowns. It is specified to operate at -40 degrees to 65 degrees Celsius (149 degrees Fahrenheit).

Because of its ruggedization, it can be used in factory or industrial locations as well as in outdoor areas such as storage yards or worksites.

The optional integrated antenna is designed to be less likely to interfere with vehicles or equipment, and thereby be less prone to impacts.

Improved Read Performance

The reader takes a step forward in RF sensitivity, says Fein. It offers a read rate of about 13,000 (or more) tag reads per second and -92dBm sensitivity. That makes it possible to offer more reliable read performance even in challenging environments, the company says.

One use-case example highlighted by Zebra officials is management of goods in parcel delivery or service vehicles. A reader installed on the roof of a van would read tagged items even when they are tightly packed.

By installing the reader in a van, users could then identify all items loaded in the vehicle, and when they were removed, without requiring the operator to scan tags with a handheld reader at each stop.

Connectivity Through 5G and Private Cellular

The FXR90 is Zebra’s first reader that comes with integrated 5G connectivity, which will be available later this quarter for those who request it.

It will feature private 5G or Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) to connect the reader to a private network, as well as GPS functionality to identify the reader’s location.

The reader comes with an AC/DC or DC/DC power supply for vehicles. And because of the cellular as well as Wi-Fi connectivity, users do not need to drop an Ethernet cable to deploy the reader in a remote area.

Additionally, it comes with integrated Bluetooth 5.3 to read BLE beacons, tags and sensors, and to connect to Android or Windows devices.

Edge Computing

Another trend we’re seeing,” when it comes to RFID solution requirements, says Fein, “is processing data on the edge” rather than streaming large amounts of data to be processed on a cloud-based server.

“It’s the most powerful reader that we’ve ever launched from the standpoint of running applications on the device itself,” he says.

The reader comes with a quad-core processor, 2 gigabytes of RAM and 16 gigabytes of flash drive, and runs Linux OS, to enable those functions.

“Users want to be able to run applications and do that data processing right where it is, to help make decisions quickly,” Fein says, based on the read data being captured.

The reader enables companies that previously might have required a separate cellular connected device or USB dongle to deploy the reader and connect it to the necessary backend server without requiring middleware or separate processor and gateway.

Food Supply Chain

Companies deploying the reader include those in the food supply chain, where perishable products can be tracked as they are produced, transported and stored. The need for this is growing as the compliance date for all persons subject to the recordkeeping requirements is January 20, 2026. 

For instance, the reader would be deployed at manufacturing or production sites where harvested food is processed. It could be used in the vehicles that transport those goods, as well as in freezers or coolers in warehouses or at dock doors.

When used in vehicles, food can be tracked in transit to ensure it does not get delayed or misrouted. In that way the rate of products expiring, or being marked down due to approaching expiration dates, can be reduced.

The use in transit can enable food, pharmaceuticals or other products to be protected from diversion in transit or counterfeits.

Retail Sites for Shrink Prevention

The ruggedized reader is not intended for customer-facing, retail-site exits, but for shrink detection in the backroom.

In fact, retailers expressed the biggest issue of inventory shrinkage is before the products actually go to the sales floor. According to Capitol One Shopping research, 28.5 percent of retail theft is internal or employee-based.

Therefore, Zebra officials say the reader can be used at egress points that only store personnel have access to—such as trash chutes.

Some dishonest employees use the chutes to send products out of the store, to be picked up by an accomplice at the dumpster. Such disposal of unpurchased products could occur in error. With the use of an RFID reader, when a new product is thrown in the chute to be disposed of, that action can be detected.

Beta Testing Underway

Pricing is typical for the read quality it provides, the company reports. And because of the optional integrated antenna, it can be deployed more seamlessly, at lower cost.  The company says the FXR90 also can be used with external antennas, offering 4-port and 8-port versions.

A handful of users are either beta testing, or deploying the readers today, according to Zebra officials.

Fein describes the release of the FXR90 as the latest in the evolution of RFID.

“When we look at just how integrated RFID is into the different solutions,” Fein says, the demand for more versatile tag reading is necessary.

Key Takeaways:
  • Zebra’s latest fixed reader – the FXR90 – is designed to enable RFID tag reading in vehicles, outdoor sites and on manufacturing floors.
  • The reader is intended to meet rising demand for tag read data beyond the more traditional, indoor portal points (such as inside warehouses).