Next-Generation RFID Tags Debut - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications

Next-Generation RFID Tags Debut

This week, Impinj begins shipping RFID tags and readers based on the new Gen 2 standard, and businesses are already lining up to test them.

Impinj Inc. this week will ship radio-frequency identification tags based on the new Gen 2 specification, which can boost read rates up to 1,500 tags per second, five times faster than the current specs. Gen 2-based tags can be rewritten multiple times, and they're hardier: They can avert interference caused by multiple readers. Impinj also is shipping new multiprotocol readers, which can scan tags based on Gen 2 and the Class-0 and Class-1 protocols.

Unilever, UPS, and Qualcomm co-founder Andrew Viterbi are investors in the new chips, says William Colleran, Impinj's president and CEO. "Unilever and UPS will be some of the early testers," he says, adding that the company already has orders for the new chips and expects to ship several million units a month. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. semiconductors are being used to manufacturer the tags.

In many cases, consumer-goods companies will have to upgrade to Gen 2 when the new technology becomes widely available to meet Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s and other businesses' requirements. Most suppliers have been buying "upgradeable" readers and may only need to make minor adjustments to their equipment to use the Gen 2 tags, says Jeff Woods, VP of enterprise and supply-chain-management research at Gartner.

"That's if--and this is a big if--the [firmware software] upgrades work as advertised" by the vendors, Woods says. "There are substantial differences between the Gen 1 and Gen 2 technology. It isn't clear that everyone's equipment will work with Generation 2." For example, he says reader performance might degrade as the users move to Gen 2. Executives should ask their vendors if the readers and encoders will work with the Gen 2 protocol at the same performance levels, Woods says.

Suppliers are already talking about upgrading equipment to Gen 2 technology, Woods says. The retailers will force this decision because they want to unify the technology and have all their suppliers on one platform. "In today's world, the retailers are forced to support multiple technologies, and it will be better for everyone when there is movement to a unified standard," he says.

Meanwhile, Alien Technology, 3PL Solutions, and Sysco, a food-service and -distribution company, have deployed an RFID-sensor system to monitor temperatures of refrigerated and frozen foods. The system includes reusable semipassive 4-Kbyte RFID tags that are similar to the tags Wal-Mart and other retailers are using in their RFID initiatives. The sensor system uses a 96-bit identification code.

Three RFID tags are placed in a truck trailer; two periodically record the temperature inside the truck, the third takes more frequent readings but only records them if there's a temperature change. When the truck reaches its destination, the data is downloaded to a warehouse-management system and used to ensure that the frozen foods and produce remained refrigerated to prevent food from spoiling.

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