Texas Instruments Rolling Out Its Gen 2 Chips

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

TI says its Gen 2 chips will be available in August, in the form of wafers and as rolls of chips attached to straps. The company will stop making Gen 2 inlays.

Texas Instruments says it will put its Gen 2 chips into production next month, making them widely available. It has already begun sending samples of the chips to some customers, according to Bill Allen, TI's director of strategic alliances.

"We're excited that we can finally announce availability of our Gen 2 silicon," says Allen.

The company has been selling UHF EPC Gen 2 inlays (chips mounted on antennas) since late last year, but has been sourcing chips for those inlays from Seattle-based semiconductor maker Impinj. Customers who currently have TI's Gen 2 inlays with Impinj chips will continue to receive full product support and service, the company says, but starting next month it will stop selling Gen 2 inlays to end users, and will sell only Gen 2 chips to tag makers and label converters.

"Given that Impinj has, to date, been the only source of Gen 2 silicon, [TI's] chip is certainly a welcome entrant to the marketplace," says Mike Liard, principal analyst for the RFID practice of market research firm ABI Research. He adds that end users of Gen 2 RFID tags are looking for improved performance, which TI says its chip will provide, and that two providers of Gen 2 chips in the marketplace might lead to competition and lower chip prices.

TI has engineered its Gen 2 chips to be highly sensitive to RF interrogation, through the use of a built-in Schottky diode, a specialized rectifier that quickly converts the RF energy received from the interrogator into DC voltage, according to Allen. This makes the chip 20 percent more energy-efficient than other Gen 2 tags, and allows it to transmit its data across a larger distance, the company claims.

"A more sensitive chip will increase a tag's read reliability, which will lead to a higher read percentage, which leads to the end customers being better able to [use RFID to] manage their supply chain operations," Allen says. But he says the increased sensitivity could also be used to lower the size of the tag's antenna, in which case some of the efficiency gain could be lost but the tag size could be reduced, allowing for greater integration options into packaging or tag form factors, he adds.

TI will sell its Gen 2 chips in three different form factors. The most expensive option will be chip mounted onto a conductive strap, which can then be attached to an antenna to make a complete inlay. Using a strap enables TI's customers to create inlays without using a clean room, which are expensive to maintain. The two other options will be a standard uncut wafer of chips and a wafer that has been scored and "bumped," which makes the individual chips easy to remove from the wafer and add to antennas to create inlays.

Allen believes by offering chip mounted on straps, TI will enable new types of companies, such as packaging suppliers, to begin integrating tags into their products. Earlier this year, TI and packaging supplier Smurfit-Stone demonstrated a cardboard case with an integrated UHF Gen 2 inlay made with a chip mounted on a strap (see TI, Smurfit-Stone Demo RFID-Enabled Cases).

TI is also encoding a serialized identifier to each chip, designed to be overwritten with an EPC as each inlay is made. This code can be used by tag makers and label converters to ensure that they singulate each tag before encoding an EPC to it. Many types of passive tags have come with these factory-issued overwritable IDs, says Allen, but not Gen 2 chips. Impinj—the only other chipmaker that has begun selling Gen 2 chips in large volumes—does not encode a serialized identifier to its Gen 2 chips.