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AWID: Accessing New RFID Markets

Applied Wireless Identification, an access control specialist, wants to be a player in the market for RFID supply chain systems. It plans to develop custom chipsets for handheld and low-cost fixed readers.
By Bob Violino
Aug 23, 2003—Aug. 25, 2003 - Like many engineering-focused companies, Applied Wireless Identification Group (AWID) hasn't spent a lot of money on a glitzy Web site or a slick marketing campaign. Instead, the company, located in Monsey, N.Y., puts all of its resources into developing new products. That strategy may soon pay off. AWID is designing a
AWID's Donny Lee
multi-protocol UHF reader in the form of a PCMCIA card that can be plugged into any handheld computer or bar code scanner with the appropriate slot. And it's planning to shrink its fixed reader into a set of microchips, which would cut costs dramatically.

AWID was founded by Donny Lee, an engineer who worked at a number of high-tech companies, including Fairchild and General Instrument. In the mid-1990s, Lee was VP of the electronics system division for Aeroflex, a military contractor. He was working on advanced radar systems in 1996, when IBM asked Aeroflex to design an RFID reader. Lee spent seven months developing a reader that operated at 2.45 GHz. That sparked his interest in the potential of RFID technology.

In 1998, Lee left Aeroflex to launch AWID with two partners. Eventually, he bought out his partners and got some funding from silent partners in Taiwan, where he grew up. He developed a line of RFID readers for access control, which currently accounts for 80 percent of AWID's revenue. The company makes low-frequency (125 KHz) systems and one gate-control reader that operates in the UHF band (920 to 928 MHz) for security companies, including DoorKing, Identicard, Lenel Systems International and PCSC.

Lee says AWID's access control business is doubling every year, but the overall market is not growing rapidly. So the company must win business away from HID Corp., which dominates the access control industry. But he sees more long-term opportunity in providing RFID readers for use in the supply chain. "There's explosive growth potential in the asset management market," Lee says. "About 90 percent of our engineering resources are now being put into developing new products for this market."

Earlier this year, Lee hired Jeffery Jacobsen, former CEO of Alien Technology, as president. Jacobsen raised tens of millions of dollars for Alien and helped to position the Morgan Hill, Calif., startup to take advantage of the adoption of EPC technology. Lee is hoping that Jacobsen can do the same for AWID.

AWID's strategy is to develop multi-protocol readers, so companies don't have to buy one reader for one application and another for a different one. Right now, AWID has a competitive advantage in the handheld market, because it has developed a 13.56 MHz reader in a PCMCIA card and is working on a UHF version, which will be on the market next year.

The PCMCIA readers are designed to plug into handheld bar code scanners. Companies can buy the cards, which cost between $500 and $600, and plug them into their existing bar code scanners. Then they can read either the bar code or the RFID tag without having to spend tens of thousands of dollars on new handheld RFID readers.

Most older bar code scanners use the PCMCIA card slot to provide wireless connectivity, so companies that swap out the wireless network card for the RFID reader will have to download RFID data in batch mode. Newer handheld scanners have 802.11 capabilities built in, so companies can get a wireless bar code and RFID reader all in the same package.
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