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Part 2: Understanding the EPC Gen 2 Protocol

The second-generation UHF Electronic Product Code standard includes many enhancements on Gen 1. Part 2 of this special report explains the most significant improvements.
By Mark Roberti
Tags: Standards
Apr 04, 2005—The second-generation air-interface protocol standard incorporates some of the best aspects of the air-interfaces used in the Gen 1 and ISO protocols, and adds some features borrowed from other communication systems, such as 802.11 Wi-Fi routers, to create reader-tag communications that are faster and more reliable (as well as better able to deal with noise in the environment, as described under the section on dense-reader mode in Part 1) than any existing RFID protocols.

Part 1 of this report looked at entirely new features that were incorporated in the Gen 2 protocol. We now turn to enhancements made to the Gen 1 protocols. As we said in part 1, RFID users need to be aware that readers do not have to support all the features and improvements built into the protocol. So even though the current crop of UHF readers can be upgraded with hardware and new firmware to enable them to read Gen 2 tags, they might not be able to take advantage of the enhancements described below.

Faster read rates
The Gen 2 protocol is designed to enable readers to read data from and write data to RFID tags much faster than the Gen 1 protocols. Gen 2 supports a tag-to-reader data transfer rate of up to 640 kilobits per second, versus up to 80 kilobits per second for Gen 1 Class 0 and 140 kilobits per second for Gen 1 Class 1. The faster rates mean companies don't have to slow down their operations in order for tags to be read. Furthermore, the Gen 2 protocol requires that tags write 16 bits in less than 20 milliseconds. Writing a 96-bit EPC, plus "overhead" (a few bits of additional information stored on the tag), should take less than 140 ms, allowing readers to program tags at rates exceeding 7 tags per second in the field, which mean manufacturers won't have to slow down their production line to write EPCs to tags.

"End users should expect, in a properly implemented system, to achieve tag read rates three to eight times faster than Gen 1," says Chris Diorio, cochair of EPCglobal’s Hardware Action Group (HAG), which developed the Gen 2 protocol, and founder and chairman of Impinj, a Seattle-based manufacturer of RFID equipment. "It will take time to get to that point, because reader manufacturers will have to optimize their systems to get the true benefits. But the capability is there."

William Colleran, president and CEO of Impinj, adds that the Gen 2 air interface uses the UHF spectrum more efficiently and that should improve system performance when there are many readers in facility. "There's a limited amount of spectrum allocated for UHF RFID," he says. "The ability to use it more efficiently means you can have more readers working effectively in an environment."

It's not clear how Gen 2 systems will perform in the real world, but Alien Technology's VP of corporate development, Tom Pounds, says for most applications, end users should expect a properly installed Gen 2 system to perform 50 percent faster than Gen 1 system in the United States and as much as 100 percent faster in Europe.
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