The RFID industry got an exciting new RFID chipset today as Impinj announced their new Monza 4 RFID chip. Judging from the results of Impinj's own testing, it sets a new standard for RFID read range, readability, and RFID performance for passive EPC-compliant RFID chips, as well as providing innovative new wireless security features.
This is another significant step in the RFID industry, a heartening trend, over the past half-decade, of steady and substantial increases in read ranges, read rates, and the ability to work with challenging materials and environments, along with a steady decrease in how finicky the technology is and the amount of custom engineering required to make it work.
Don't get us wrong, passive RFID will always have its challenges, requiring a different type of expertise to implement solutions (different than wired or higher-powered wireless technologies like WiFi). But this announcement further reinforces the fact that we are at the stage (and have been for sometime) where passive RFID can be widely deployed globally in production environments by the majority of enterprises across many industries.
Among the innovations in the new chip is what Impinj calls "True3D". There have been other implementations of dual-antenna passive RFID tags in the past, but these generally had a common ground between the two antennas. That results in a dramatic reduction in their orientation independence, which was the main reason for using two different antennas. In contrast, Monza 4 has two separate dual-differential antenna ports (no common ground), providing a much more uniform (spherical) read field, resulting in considerably better orientation independence. This is critical for applications where the tags' orientation is not consistent from read-to-read which includes most of the world.
The challenge with RFID is the high variability in the percentage of tags successfully read. This limits its usefulness, or requires users to put in redundant systems and equipment to assure that they capture the data successfully. Better read performance helps to alleviate this issue.
Read/Write Range, Speed, and Reliability
Impinj's own tests of the Monza 4 found an almost 5db advantage vs. the next best competitor. That translates into over 60% more range, as well as higher read and write reliability. The improved write reliability is critical to manufacturers and packing lines, as it directly reduces the amount of expensive rework labor required when a tag is not properly written. Impinj plans to submit their tag to several of the independent 3rd party benchmarking tests, and has high expectations that they will lead the pack. We'll be looking for that, as will most of the RFID market, including users looking to place orders and competitors looking to go back to the lab!
With Monza 3, Impinj's pharmaceutical customers have been writing 400-600 tags per minute. Impinj has increased the write throughput on the Monza 4 by a factor of 4X by reducing the write cycle by half and writing twice as many bits per write cycle. Whizzz... that's fast enough to support virtually any manufacturing situation.
With high-memory RFID projects like Boeing and their Dreamliner initiative being repeatedly grounded and delayed, the hype around large-memory chips seems to be still an emerging market. They are needed in situations where the network is unavailable, requiring data to be kept on the chip, such as product tracking history, maintenance history, etc. This seems to beacon a large market, but it has yet to emerge. New players like Tego already arrived to capture this niche. With the Monza 4U version, Impinj will feature 512 bits of user memory + 128 bits EPC memory. For applications that need to support EPC code lengths greater than 96 bits (such as SGTIN-198, SGLN-195, GRAI-170, GDTI-113) the Monza 4E has 128 bits user memory and 496 bits EPC memory. Beyond these standard SKUs, customers can trade off the User and EPC memory spaces in custom increments. It will be interesting to see if Impinj's timing is right, and whether the high memory passive RFID market will start to take off in the next year or two.
Privacy and Security
When it comes to security and privacy for passive RFID, current offerings have provided limited choices. Standard tags offer little beyond the TID (Tag ID) to deter cloning. At the other end of the spectrum are RFID chips that have encryption capabilities, which can provide strong security mechanisms, such as challenge-response protocols. But cryptography requires substantial computational horsepower, which makes these chips one or two orders of magnitude more expensive, and increases their power consumption dramatically (thereby reducing their read range). Security providers with alternative or lighter-weight cryptographic engines (like Certicom, SecureRF, and RSA) have jumped into the RFID market but have had a hard time selling these solutions additively into the market.
The Monza 4 QT chip fills the void between those extremes with some innovative privacy and security features, with much less impact on cost and performance than full encryption. Up to now, Alien and new comer Verayo have somewhat also marketed to this need.
The security features of the Monza QT should be useful in government, retail, traceability and manufacturing settings where secure data and/or consumer privacy or manufacturer/customer data confidentiality is important. Since these are innovative new features not seen before on RFID chips, we predict that the market will embrace these features and come up with new and unforeseen ways of using them.
2010 - Decade Two for RFID
After Walmart and DoD announced their RFID mandates in 2003, almost every year for about the next five years we were asked by journalist and industry observers, "Is this the year of RFID?" We've always said, "No, this is not the year of RFID. This is the decade of RFID." When a new technology requires changes to business processes and systems, it takes time for it to be broadly adopted. The robustness of Monza 4 is one more important step and validation of the fact that the industry has "crossed the chasm". It's no longer earlier adopters with their "science kits". Now it's mainstream business decision makers who are implementing RFID, with business performance improvements in mind.
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