WJ Achieves a UHF Milestone

The key to bringing down the cost and reducing the size of RFID interrogators is to shrink the electronic components on a printed circuit board down to a chipset. Now, WJ Communications has done it.
Published: March 27, 2009

By Mark Roberti

I’ve heard a number of very smart engineers say that RFID interrogators don’t need to cost $1,000 or more, that they can be a couple of hundred dollars. All you need to do, they say, is design microchips that can handle the functions of the main electronic components of an interrogator—such as the baseband signal processor, power amplifier and voltage-controlled oscillator. There’s no mystery about how to do this, but it’s an expensive research-and-development effort. But WJ Communications has now done it.

I sat down with Prashant Upreti, RFID marketing manager for WJ at RFID Journal LIVE! Europe last week. He showed me a box of tiny (8 mm by 8 mm) squares. “These are passive UHF readers,” he said. “They are compliant with the EPCglobal Gen 2 (ISO 18000-6C) and ISO 18000-6B standards.”

WJ Communications has been at work on the chipset for a year and a half and is currently providing samples of the chipset, dubbed WJC200, to RFID interrogator and label printer/encoder manufacturers, which are testing them (see WJ Communications Shrinks Reader Components into Chipset). The WJC200 chipset should be available in production quantities early next year and will start appearing in new products shortly thereafter.

WJ’s achievement is a milestone for UHF RFID because it enables WJ and other UHF interrogator manufacturers to reduce the size and cost of UHF interrogators. These tiny chipsets can be put on a smaller printed circuit board, enabling companies to reduce the size of handheld and fixed interrogators. They can also reduce the size of reader/encoder modules that go into label printers by as much as 50 percent, enabling easier integration of the reader and the printer.

Interrogator chipsets should reduce the cost of interrogators of all kinds because once WJ (and eventually other companies) starts to produce chipsets in large volumes, the price of each chipset will fall dramatically (to as low as perhaps $20). The chipsets also consume less power than separate components on a board, so the chipsets will increase battery life in mobile devices.

Prashant says WJ is going to put the chipset in its own modules, which it sells to original equipment manufacturers, and it is targeting OEMs that make handheld readers, because that’s where the chipset is likely to be most attractive in the short term.

Don’t expect WJ’s new chipset to revolutionize the RFID interrogator market overnight. But make no mistake; this is a milestone that will have a significant impact on overall adoption of RFID. As interrogators get smaller and cheaper and more mobile, they will help companies achieve a positive return on investment for their RFID investments.