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Honey, We Shrunk the Interrogator!

Chipmakers are integrating nearly all of the vital components used in passive UHF readers onto a single chip.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Apr 01, 2007—Thanks to this much-anticipated development, technology companies can develop interrogators that come in significantly smaller form factors than current models, mobile readers that are more power efficient and interrogators that will likely cost less than current ones, says Mike Liard, RFID and contactless research director for ABI Research.

Intel is making one such chip, or application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC), combining the UHF reader components—those that transmit and receive radio frequencies, as well as those that modulate and process the analog waves into usable data—onto a single piece of silicon. A low-power amplifier is also onboard the chip, though long-range reading requires an additional power amplifier. When used with an external microcontroller chip, which does the protocol processing needed to convert the bitstream into a recognizable Electronic Product Code, you have a complete UHF Gen 2/ISO 18000-6C reader chipset.

Intel says it is working with 20 interrogator manufacturers that expect to release products with the R1000 chipset by year's end.

Intel says it is working with 20 interrogator manufacturers that expect to release products with the R1000 chipset by year's end. One of the first R1000-enabled products is the Mercury5e, an embeddable reader module made by ThingMagic. "The Mercury5e is about the size of an Apple Nano [music player]," says Kevin Ashton, ThingMagic's vice president of marketing. "It works [under spectrum allocations] in North America, Europe and Asia, and it can run the Gen 2 dense-reader mode and also listen-before-talk for use in Europe."

Ashton says the Mercury5e can read more than 150 Gen 2 tags per second when operating in dense-reader mode. The Mercury5, a fixed-position interrogator that contains discrete components rather than an ASIC, can read more than 200. But the Mercury5e will be used largely for handheld interrogators, for which power consumption and size are more important than the number of tags read per second.

WJ Communications developed a reader chipset—the WJC200—that can read and encode Gen 2 and ISO 18000-6B tags. South Korean telecommunications firm SK Telecom plans to partner with cell phone makers to build the WJC200 into a Gen 2 reader that would act as a cell phone attachment and be used for consumer applications.

Several other chipmakers are developing UHF reader chipsets (see box). Once large numbers of interrogator manufacturers begin using reader chipsets, prices should begin to fall—though how far or how fast is still unknown. But Liard says end users should consider the peripheral benefits of lower power consumption and the greater product reliability readers running on chipsets should provide—fewer parts means fewer parts that could fail. "These benefits can lower the total cost of ownership," he says, "and that's important when you talk about infrastructure."

Who's Who in Integrated Reader Chips


Institute of Microelectronics



Starport Systems

WJ Communications
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