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Aug 27, 2015

The Convergence of UHF RFID and NFC

I saw my first combined UHF RFID-NFC apparel label at a trade show several years ago. I remember wondering what the reason for this combination was. After all, UHF RFID is primarily used in the business-to-business world of retail: supply chains, inventories, point-of-sale, etc. NFC, on the other hand, is used in the business-to-consumer interface: in retail, primarily brand enhancement. Could there be a reason to combine these two technologies?

The label sales guy politely explained to me that the reason for the combined label was precisely that, addressing both the B2B and B2C needs at once. Since the apparel supplier is already required to tag all his products with UHF RFID to accommodate the retailer’s inventorying needs, why not put in NFC as well?

The Cost

Of course, there is an added cost of adding NFC functionality to a label. But the supplier is already purchasing labels. There is a process in place for attaching the labels to the garments, and, hopefully, there is already some kind of quality assurance process. Ideally, adding NFC functionality costs little more than the additional cost of the NFC inlays.

The Benefit

But what do the apparel suppliers, or better the brand owners, get out of this? They get a chance to use the store as their marketing media. As a consumer taps a product label with an NFC enabled smartphone, they are taken to a dedicated web page where the brand owner can interact with them. The consumer may receive detailed information about the product, or they may be offered promotions for that specific product or other ones. The possibilities are endless. Besides, the brand owners gain information about who is interacting with the products and when each can be used for planning future marketing activities.

Latest Developments

The combined UHF RFID-NFC label that I saw years ago was based on separate UHF RFID and NFC inlays. But at the beginning of this year, EM Microelectronic launched a new product that could change this approach. The EM4423 is, according to their own words, “the world’s first RFID circuit featuring a UHF EPC Gen2V2 RF and an NFC Type 2 interface”. Several tag manufacturers are working with the chip, and we should expect to see new exciting products by the end of the year.

What Does the Convergence Mean for RFID Testing

Combining two antennas into a single tag adds a new layer of complexity. The UHF part should work with all RFID readers: handhelds, gates, POS, and so on. And NFC should be conveniently usable for consumers with their various smart devices. Optimizing tag design for both needs is more demanding than designing a single frequency tag. Also tagging the items must be reconsidered: tag placement must serve reliable inventory counting and allow convenient consumer access.

My company Voyantic’s focus has always been in performance and quality testing of RFID components, both UHF and HF/NFC. Lately, we have seen more and more companies developing and using UHF RFID and NFC technology side by side. To better serve our customers, we have been working the last couple of years to build a test system that would allow testing both of these technologies. Our goal has been to enable the rapid development of new, cost-efficient tag designs and to deploy them into a reliable system.

Tagformance Pro combines UHF RFID and NFC testing in one device

Tagformance Pro combines UHF and NFC tag testing into one device. The Tagformance Pro supports tag design, tag selection, and planning of tag placement – both UHF RFID for inventory and supply chain and NFC for the consumer interface. Tagformance Pro is a real all-in-one tool for anyone either developing or using RFID technology.

Download the Tagformance Pro Catalogue

Learn more about the Voyantic Tagformance® Pro Test Device! By combining RAIN RFID and NFC testing into one compact test device, our all-new Tagformance Pro is a true all-in-one tool for anyone either developing or using RFID technology.

Aug 14, 2015

Tagged-Item Grading Helps Retail UHF RFID Projects

Retail and the retail supply chain are among the most significant users of UHF RFID technology. However, retail RFID projects are not the most simple ones. Items in retail come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. They are shipped in different boxes and stored and displayed on all kinds of racks, shelves, and tables. Also, different readers are used in various applications: logistics tracking, inventory count, RFID EAS, POS, and so on. I was involved in several retail RFID projects, and I have seen how complicated the performance optimization can be.

GS1 Tagged-Item Performance Protocol (TIPP) was developed to help retail RFID by making buying and selling tags easier. But what do the TIPP guidelines mean, and what kind of testing is required?

Goal: Accuracy in Inventory Counting

The purchase of RFID tags for retail items used to be complicated. The goal is simple: to have good counting accuracy (read rate) and a long and controlled read range. But I have seen how simple read range and counting accuracy requirements turn into a complicated mess of lengthy and costly field testing and piloting. Tags and readers are often selected separately, and system-level optimization is left to a trial-and-error process, if not entirely forgotten.

One approach used to be describing various use cases in detail and relying on the suppliers and technology providers to deliver tags that would work in all of the applications. The supplier was accountable for performance but had in practice minimal possibilities to achieve the goal.

Another strategy was to test extensively and to list accepted tags for different product categories. That way, the supplier was no longer accountable but was forced to buy specified tags without a possibility for price competition.

Finally, when using TIPP, the supplier is accountable for performance, and also has all the tools needed for delivering and verifying it.

Tagged- Item Grading Makes Retail RFID Projects Easier

The Tagged Item Performance Protocol makes buying and selling tags easier. The idea is familiar with many goods, from engine oils to clothes. It is a lot easier for a buyer to purchase shoes of size 41 than to provide a list of different measures of the foot. And it is a lot easier for the supplier to produce, stock, and sell shoes with a few different sizes than to verify that the unique requirements of each customer are met.

Similarly: it is easier to buy and sell tagged items performing according to a grade S05B than to list and verify all relevant performance requirements individually. As a result, a retailer’s list of requirements could be, for example:

  • items to be tagged with UHF RFID tags with C1G2 protocol
  • tagged items following GS1 Format & Symbol Placement for the Electronic Product Code guideline with C1G2 protocol
  • performance according to GS1 TIPP S05B grade
  • coded with SGTIN-96.

Now there is no longer a need to describe in detail which RFID tags to use and how to place them. Also, the suppliers and tag providers don’t need to guess what the use case description means from an RF performance point of view. TIPP translates complex system-level requirements into simplified component level pass/fail verification that any vendor can handle themselves.

The Voyantic Tagged-Item Grading System is 100% aligned with the GS1 Tagged-Item Performance Protocol (TIPP). The system automates TIPP grade validation and testing and provides results quickly and easily. It also enables TIPP grade audits to be performed by anyone. The Voyantic Tagged-Item Grading System is available as a complete turn-key setup.

Want to learn more? Read more about the GS1 TIPP guideline and the Voyantic Tagged-Item Grading System! Don’t forget to download our handy tool for evaluating read ranges with different RFID readers and tags with various TIPP grades below!

Download a Tool for Evaluating Read Ranges

Download a handy tool for evaluating read ranges with different RFID readers and tags with various TIPP grades. In the tool you can select a TIPP grade, input reader parameters, and see what kind of read range is expected from the system.