RFID News Roundup

By Andrew Price

RFID vendors named for first phase of EPCglobal cargo-tracking pilot; WhereNet opens Asia-Pacific headquarters; kick-off standards meeting for RuBee tag; NordicID partners with CAEN, upgrades PL3000; WJ Communications releases module using UHF chipset; Ports of Busan, Rotterdam operating SaviTrack system; Genco reselling RFind RTLS platform.

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The following are news announcements made during the week of Jan. 29.

RFID Vendors Named for First Phase of EPCglobal Cargo-Tracking Pilot

In late 2006, EPCglobal said it would take part in a global RFID pilot project—a two-phase system to track sea shipments using both passive and active RFID technologies, as well as sensors and the EPC Information Services (EPCIS) for data exchange (see 'Largest Global Pilot Yet' in the Works for EPCglobal). The pilot's first phase started this week and will conclude in mid-February, using passive EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tags to track three clothing shipments traveling from Hong Kong to Japan. To enable this part of the pilot, four firms—Internet Initiative Japan (IIJ), NTT Comware, Oracle Japan and VeriSign Japan—have formed the Japan Application Consortium (JAC), designed to provide software and services so pilot participants can access and exchange information from RFID tags attached to products and containers. NTT Comware and Oracle Japan are contributing RFID middleware, while Internet Initiative Japan, an Internet networking services provider, has developed EPC Information Services (EPCIS) databases that participating shipping companies will use to track the containers' movements. This search function is based on the Object Naming Service (ONS), provided by VeriSign Japan and used to look up unique EPCs and locate information about the items associated with those codes.

WhereNet Opens Asia-Pacific Headquarters

WhereNet, a provider of real-time locating systems (RTLS) that leverage active RFID, recently opened its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Shanghai. WhereNet's technology has been deployed for tracking assets by logistics, automotive, aerospace and defense, and health-care companies worldwide. WhereNet says it established the Asia-Pacific headquarters in response to a growing demand in that region for its products. WhereNet's battery-powered ISO 24730 standard RTLS tags and readers operate at 2.4 GHz and were certified by the China State Radio Regulation Committee in 2004. Some Chinese automakers are already using WhereNet's RTLS technology, including Shanghai General Motors, a joint partnership between General Motors and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. Group (SAIC), one of China's largest passenger-car manufacturers. WhereNet executives say its Asia-Pacific operations will focus on the automotive industry, as well as the transportation, distribution and logistics sectors. Last month, Zebra Technologies, a provider of passive RFID technology, acquired WhereNet for $126 million (see Zebra Buys WhereNet).

Kick-Off Standards Meeting for RuBee Tag

The IEEE working group developing the proposed IEEE P1902.1 air-interface standard—also known as RuBee—plans to hold its first meeting on Feb. 20 at the Marriott Copley Hotel in Boston, to begin the IEEE standardization process. The standard would describe how tags operating at frequencies lower that 450 kHz, either passive (non-powered) or battery-powered, could be deployed in a networked fashion, identifiable through an IP address associated with each tag. To transmit their signals, RuBee tags primarily use magnetic waves, which, unlike radio waves, are not attenuated by water or reflected by metal objects. Because low frequencies have significantly smaller bandwidth for data transfer relative to higher frequencies, however, many RuBee tags cannot be read in close succession. This makes them less than ideal for supply chain applications, in which large numbers of tags pass quickly through interrogation zones. Therefore, early use of the tags has been for asset-tracking applications, in which reading large numbers of tags quickly is generally not required. The RuBee standard is targeted for completion in late 2007. Information on the IEEE P1902.1 standards effort can be downloaded at http://standards.ieee.org/board/nes/projects/1902-1.pdf.

NordicID Partners With CAEN, Upgrades PL3000

Nordic ID, a Finnish maker of mobile data-collection devices, has upgraded its PL3000 UHF handheld RFID interrogator (see Nordic ID Rolls Out UHF Handheld for Europe), to make the computer easier to use and more power-efficient. Nordic ID partnered with Italian RFID hardware provider CAEN RFID to develop the upgraded device, now dubbed the PL3000 Advanced UHF handheld computer. The handheld reader encodes ISO 18000-6B and ISO 18000-6C (EPC Gen 2) tags from a distance of up to 50 cm and can read tags up to 1 meter away. The device has a Windows CE operating platform, a PCMCIA II card slot and a 29-key keyboard. It can run for up to five hours on its battery, which can then be recharged with a desktop USB charger or car-kit charger. The PL3000 Advanced UHF handheld supports Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), GPRS, EDGE, 3G and Bluetooth communication protocols, with input/output ports that can be use to connect loudspeakers, a motion detector or a headset. The device sells for approximately €3,530 ($4,596 USD), depending on the feature configuration.

WJ Communications Releases Module Using UHF Chipset

WJ Communications, a San Jose, Calif., manufacturer of RFID interrogators, has announced a new RFID UHF reader module, the WJM3000, based on its WJC200 Gen2 reader chipset, unveiled in October (see WJ Communications Shrinks Reader Components Into Chipset). The WJM3000 can be embedded in handheld readers, POS terminals, RFID printer-encoders, PDAs, forklift interrogators and other mobile devices built to read and encode RFID tags. The module supports 1-watt (+30dBm) RF output power and can operate in the dense-reader mode (DRM) as specified in the EPC Gen 2 standard. When not in constant use, it can be set to idle or sleep power modes. The WJM3000 provides two options for mechanical connectors—a PCB header mount connection or a cable feed connection with 3.3V CMOS level (up to 5V) serial communications—and can be operated via WJ's graphical user interface demo software. The module operates over the North America UHF frequency band (902-928 MHz) and supports the ISO18000-6C (EPC Gen2) and ISO 18000-6B international standards.

Ports of Busan, Rotterdam Operating SaviTrack Networks

Savi Networks, a joint venture of RFID systems provider Savi Technology and seaport operator Hutchison Port Holdings, says its SaviTrack RFID-enabled global container shipment tracking service is now fully operational in Hutchison Port Holdings' terminals at the Port of Busan, South Korea, and the Port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The rollouts follow pilot programs at both locations. Savi Technology is owned by Lockheed Martin. The Port of Busan began testing Savi Network's technology in March of 2005 (see Korean Seaport Tests RFID Tracking), while the Port of Rotterdam also began a pilot program in 2005.

Genco Reselling RFind RTLS Platform

RFind Systems, developer of the RFID-based TAQnav real-time location system (RTLS), is partnering with supply chain management company Genco. The partners will deliver RFind Systems' RTLS as a value-added product and service to Genco's customers in the manufacturing and retail industries, as well as those in government agencies. Genco will also install the TAQnav system at its test laboratory in Pittsburgh, where customers can test the system and learn how to use it in their own operations. The RFind system operates in the UHF (915 MHz) band. Its active tags can be read from up to 750 feet away and located to within 5 to 7 feet, using algorithms based on the tags' signal strength.