The new EPCglobal Inc UHF RFID Generation 2 air interface protocol specification, commonly referred to as “Gen2,” is continuing to spur adoption of RFID. Intermec, which holds more than 140 UHF RFID patents, has applauded the new consensus standard, but maintains that RFID manufacturers who want to offer fully-functional Gen2 RFID systems will need to license its technology.
A self-described “UHF RFID pioneer,” Intermec Technologies Corp. of Everett, Washington, has licensed much of its technology, providing access to its current and future RFID innovations.
Intermec’s claims its commitment to the industry has never wavered, said Dan Bodnar, Intermec’s director of RFID products. “We did not compromise, we maintained all along that we have some 140 patents,” he said. “Our patents are not only applicable to Gen2 but also to Gen1 and the practice of all UHF RFID. There’s never been a compromise there. The only difference that occurred is that part of what EPCglobal said is that the Gen2 standard could be practiced royalty-free. But to implement the full functionality of Gen2, you have to talk to Intermec about a license agreement.”
EPCglobal ratified the UHF RFID Generation 2 air interface protocol specification last December.
Royalty-free specs don’t mean royalty-free products
“It is important to remember that the claim of a royalty-free air interface protocol specification does not mean royalty-free UHF RFID products,” commented Intermec President Tom Miller in earlier press reports. “We believe companies that offer UHF RFID products and solutions will still require a license to use Intermec intellectual property.”
To support market adoption of RFID, Intermec has agreed to royalty-free use of five key UHF patents. “All relate to how the tags, readers, and antennas work,” Mr. Bodnar said. “They have to do with the very basic, broadest aspect of RFID technology. You can sign up for a license to use these for free.”
“We believe these patents are essential to practicing RFID technology for these types of applications,” said Mr. Bodnar. “We’re offering these patents so the overall market grows. We have a history of doing this with some of our other scanning patents (bar code type scanning devices) licensed to 20 other companies. The net result here is that imaging is prevalent for bar code scanners, the price is coming down, and the market is growing. That has been our strategy for these patents.”
Other applications depend on a manufacturer’s needs. “Some of our patents impact certain aspects of Gen2,” said Mr. Bodnar. “For example, with frequency hopping, where you’re looking at how to implement the Gen2 standard to take full advantage of response time, you need to use one of our patents. If you don’t, you’ll get about 10% of the performance. Other patents impact tag costs and still others have to do with synchronizing the tag and reader. We have a patent that automatically synchronizes the tag timing with readers, which reduces the tag cost and increases the operating temperature range for the tags.”
Gen1/Gen2 differences abound
According to Intermec, first and second generation chips differ in size, which translates to lower costs. Another major difference is the amount of memory a chip contains. “Gen2 memory will be greater than Gen1. It will vary by chip vendor and tag vendor, but the maximum memory is 96 bits with Gen1 but with Gen2 that’s just the minimum,” he added.
“Another difference between Gen1 and Gen2 is that Gen2 is read/write capable. Gen2 is a read-write tag from the get go. You’ll also be able to get Gen2 chips from multiple suppliers, which isn’t true about Gen1.”
Several manufacturers–Texas Instruments, Impinj, and Philips–have committed to produce chips to Gen2 standards.
On Gen2’s advantages – “The most prevalent is the ability to have global regulatory compliance. The use of Gen1 technology outside North America is problematic. It’s a North American standard. Gen2 is intended to be global,” explained Mr. Bodnar.
He continued, “With Gen1, there is a lot of cross talk, which reduces overall system performance. With Gen2 you don’t have that issue. That also allows you to have a high concentration of readers in a small area.”
There are more differences. “There’s the ability to have a kill feature. Within Gen2 there’s a 32-bit kill password. If you want to de-commission an item or you’re facing a consumer privacy issue, the RFID chip can be disabled. There are also faster read rates. Depending on how much of the Gen2 specification is implemented in the reader, read rates can be up to 1,600 tags per second,” said Mr. Bodnar.
Other differences, he said are memory access control, which provides a 32-bit access password. “If you’re transporting something that needs extra security, that feature is there. The other main difference is data filtering. For example, I have a pallet load of cartons where the pallet and each carton has an RFID tag and where I only need to read the pallet tag. I can ask the system to look only for the pallet tags. Because the carton tags don’t match the data filter, they don’t respond and consume valuable RF bandwidth. The reader can move more quickly identifying selected tags. With Gen2, that’s possible.”
Several hardware providers have propertied that Gen1 readers are upgradeable. This may be possible, “But it will be a very rudimentary version of Gen2. There is no way those Gen1 readers will meet a user’s requirements,” said Mr. Bodnar. “Most Gen1 readers will have to be replaced.”