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About RFID

What is RFID?

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a technology that incorporates the use of electromagnetic or electrostatic coupling in the radio frequency (RF) portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to uniquely identify an object, animal, or person. An object (typically referred to as an RFID tag) is applied to or incorporated into a product, animal, or person for the purpose of identification and tracking. The advantage of RFID is that it does not require direct contact or line-of-sight scanning. An RFID system consists of three components: an antenna and transceiver (often combined into one reader) and a transponder (the tag). The antenna uses radio frequency waves or magnetic (inductive) energy to transmit a signal that activates the transponder. When activated, the tag transmits data back to the antenna. The data is used to notify a computer that an action should occur. The action could be as simple as raising an access gate or as complicated as interfacing with a database to carry out a monetary transaction.

What are passive RFID and active RFID?

Passive RFID is where the RFID tag’s power is derived from the Reader’s electromagnetic or inductive field. The RFID tag has no battery and is typically low-cost, robust and can last “forever”. The tag stores energy from the Reader’s electromagnetic/inductive field and passes information back to the Reader by modulating the Reader’s own radiated energy.

Three frequency groups are commonly used: LF (Low Frequency), HF (High Frquency) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency) (LF = 125/134KHz, HF = 13.56MHz, UHF 850-950MHz). LF and HF systems typically use magnetic or inductive energy so the operating range is low and usually less than 1 metre. UHF systems use radiated electromagnetic (RF) energy and reflected modulation similar to “Radar”. UHF RFID systems can have ranges up to 10 metres.

LF, HF and UHF passive tags are low-cost, simple devices. Short range LF and HF Readers (range 10cm) can be low-cost also. Longer range UHF Readers (up to 10m) are more complex systems and are relatively expensive.

Active RFID is where the RFID tag has its own power source (typically a small battery). The tag is actually a transceiver and responds to received commands from the Reader and “actively” transmits data back. Active tags can use any ISM or licensed frequency band, the most common being 850-950MHz and 2.4GHz. The range is dependent on both the tag and Reader transmitter power and receiver sensitivity. Active tags typically spend long periods “asleep” to prolong batttery life. Range can be 10’s of metres to several kilometres.

Active tags can be relatively large and have a finite life (batteries need to be changed) and are significantly more expensive than passive tags. Active Tag Readers use a similar level of technology to the tags and can be relatively inexpensive. Some tags can use “passive” circuitry to "wake up" and then “actively” transmit data, this technique offers longer battery life.

What is the maximum reading range for passive RFID?

For LF (125/134kHz) or HF (13.56MHz) passive RFID systems, the reading range is dependent on the Reader antenna size and the tag antenna size. LF and HF RFID systems use magnetic or inductive energy and typically small tags will give small range.

For a proximity LF Reader (like RWD-QT for Hitag, EM4102, etc), maximum reading range will be about 15cm using 7cm diameter Reader antenna and credit card sized tag. For a proximity HF Reader (like RWD-MICODE for Mifare, ICODE), maximum reading range will be about 5-7cm for Mifare and 10cm for ICODE using 7cm diameter Reader antenna and credit card sized tag.

For UHF (850-960MHz) passive RFID systems, the reading range is dependent of the Readers transmitting power and receiver sensitivity and the physical environment. Low-frequencies penetrate materials and liquids better. Higher frequencies (particularly UHF) can be absorbed and blocked by liquids and reflected by hard materials.

What are the main RFID standards?

Many RFID technologies are proprietary and use patented technology and protocols defined many years ago when RFID was first used for simple applications such as access control. More recently ISO standards have been defined for different frequencies and transponder technology. These ISO standards can define the modulation techniques and communication protocols but often the memory size, security features (encryption etc) are still proprietary to one manufacturer or another.

Examples of RFID standards are:

ISO11784/785, 134kHz “animal tags”
ISO14443A, 13.56MHz Mifare cards/tags
ISO15693, 13.56MHz ICODE cards/tags
ISO18000-6B/6C, 850-950MHz UHF Gen1/2 EPC cards/tags
Many popular passive tag types are widely used and regarded as “standards” but are actually proprietary technology from one company or another. In many cases the technology has been licensed to other manufacturers to allow even wider use.

Does IB Technology support these main standards?

Yes, we support the most popular “standard” and “proprietary” RFID card/tag technology including: Hitag1, Hitag2, HitagS, EM4102, Mifare1k, Mifare4k, Ultralight, Mifare ProX, Smart-MX (DESFire) and ICODE.

Is it possible to have a ‘passive’ system with a range of several meters?

No. “Passive” RFID systems, LF (125 kHz) and HF (13.56MHz), systems use Inductive (magnetic) coupling technology and are not capable of achieving the ranges beyond a few centimetres. The only practical solution is UHF (EU 860MHz, US 915MHz, EPC Gen1/2 types) “passive” tags and a UHF long-range Reader. UHF tags use an RF back-scatter approach (similar to Radar) rather than Inductive coupling and can handle up to 10 metre range and multi-tag operation. The downside to long-range “passive” UHF is that RF signals can be blocked and attenuated by water (and other absorbent materials) and can be reflected off hard or metallic surfaces. Readers can also be expensive (around GBP 500+ for a 5-metre read/write system with integrated antenna).

About IB Technology

What is the maximum reading range for passive RFID?

For LF (125/134kHz) or HF (13.56MHz) passive RFID systems, the reading range is dependent on the Reader antenna size and the tag antenna size. LF and HF RFID systems use magnetic or inductive energy and typically small tags will give small range.

For a proximity LF Reader (like RWD-QT for Hitag, EM4102, etc), maximum reading range will be about 15cm using 7cm diameter Reader antenna and credit card sized tag. For a proximity HF Reader (like RWD-MICODE for Mifare, ICODE), maximum reading range will be about 5-7cm for Mifare and 10cm for ICODE using 7cm diameter Reader antenna and credit card sized tag.

For UHF (850-960MHz) passive RFID systems, the reading range is dependent of the Readers transmitting power and receiver sensitivity and the physical environment. Low-frequencies penetrate materials and liquids better. Higher frequencies (particularly UHF) can be absorbed and blocked by liquids and reflected by hard materials.

Why should we buy from IB Technology?

You should buy from us because…

We are one of the few companies worldwide who has the flexibility and expertise to provide solutions to meet exact needs.
Our technical expertise means we can provide customized hardware and software solutions.
Our products are proven, robust and real-world engineered for reliability and long-life.
Thousands of units are in use around the world across a wide range of applications and markets.
There are end-market products in use today using IB Technology Readers that have been operating continuously 24/7 for the past 10 years without “missing a beat”.
Our expertise and partnerships mean we can help develop and manufacture complete solutions from “concept” to finished “end-market” product.
We are NXP authorised developers which gives us access to the latest information, not yet in the public domain, and support.

What are the key benefits of your solutions?

The Readers solutions...

Are real-world engineered and proven in volume.
Are pin and host command compatible.
Are designed for low power and can have an average power consumption of down to 100 micro amps even when fully active and scanning for tags.
Use the same design philosophy and firmware modules making it easy to move between solutions.
Have a strong road map from evaluation to high-volume production.
Are customisable to meet your exact needs.
Are available as “Reference Design Packs” (containing schematics, Gerber files, Bill-of-Materials) for high-volume lowest-cost integrated Reader solutions.

How else can you help?

We can...

Develop a bespoke solution.
Work with our partners to develop complete software/hardware design and product solutions, including custom plastic moulding, CE/FCC approval, Windows applications, Smartphone applications etc.
Provide RFID and design expertise.
Manufacture from low to high volume in the UK and off-shore.

IB Technology Hardware Solutions

Are the products complete systems that I can start using straight out of the box?

Our RFID readers have all the hardware and software necessary to use straight away. They have many features and simple highly optimised host commands to make interfacing to a microcontroller or computer an easy task. Programmable parameters allow automatic output of serial number and card Block data without host intervention as well as commands for reading/writing, etc.

How do I evaluate the products?

We provide a Universal Evaluation Kit for our Micro RWD RFID modules. (Part number RWD-SDK.) The kit comes with a Universal Base Board and two RFID read/write modules:

The RWD-MICODE (MIFARE-ICODE) supports 13.56MHz ISO14443A Mifare “classic” family, ISO15693 ICODE2 family and ISO14443B Calypso cards. DESFire, Mifare PLUS and ISO14443B Calypso cards are supported for serial number acquisition only. The RWD-MICODE datasheet provides more information. Please note the RWD-MICODE (24-pin) module is based on the same design (and uses the same firmware) as the OEM-MICODE Reader boards so the RWD-MICODE datasheet covers both.

The RWD-QT (Quad Tag) supports 125kHz Hitag1, Hitag S, Hitag2, EM4102, MCRF200 card/tag types. The RWD QT datasheet provides more information.

Our “Getting Started” Guide will help with set-up and using the SDK.

For evaluation of RWD-MICODE and general use, download and install the (Win32) RWD-MIFARE/ICODE Windows application

or for Windows 7, 64-bit Operating Systems, use the new .NET (Win64) RWD-MIFARE-ICODE Windows version

For evaluation of RWD-QT and general use, download and install the (Win32) RWD-QT Windows application

or for Windows 7, 64-bit Operating Systems, use the new .NET (Win64) RWD-QT Windows version

(Download the .ZIP compressed file, un-zip and run SETUP.exe to install in usual manner. Further information on the Windows programs and how to install and set-up the RS232 HEX TERMINAL PROGRAM can be found on pages 5 and 6 of OPERATION.PDF)

To help understand the command protocol and the data reply, a trial HEX RS232 TERMINAL PROGRAM is available. This is a really useful tool for sending/receiving HEX/ASCII data. (Windows HyperTerminal does not support HEX data and so has limited use).

For 64-bit Windows Operating Systems, a new .NET version of the RS232 HEX TERMINAL PROGRAM is available to download from Virtual Integrated Design.

Further information on the Windows programs and how to install and set-up the RS232 HEX TERMINAL PROGRAM can be found on pages 5 and 6 of OPERATION.PDF)

Can I improve the operating range of the antenna?

Different cards from different manufacturers have different RF tolerances and so operating range and performance can vary. The environment and housing of the Reader will also affect antenna tuning and performance.

The 125kHz RWD modules and the antenna coils (ANT125k) have a relatively wide tuning tolerance but even so careful adjustment of peak antenna voltage and antenna tuning will help improve range and performance. See ANTENNA_125 datasheet for details of antenna tuning on the 125kHz Reader systems.

The 13.56MHz RWD modules, OEM Reader boards and the antenna assembly (ANT1356M) have a relatively narrow tuning tolerance so careful adjustment of antenna tuning will help improve range and performance. See ANTENNA_1356 datasheet for details of antenna tuning on the 13.56MHz Reader systems.

The 13.56MHz PCB track antenna on the “Universal Base Board” or the OEM-MICODE board can be adjusted using the trimming capacitor (C19 on Universal Base Board, C44 on OEM board). This will improve range and performance for the card/tag type being used and the operating environment.

For the proximity Reader solutions, the operating range is basically limited by the current available from the antenna driver stage of the RF chip. This limits maximum range to about 15cm for the 125kHz RWD Readers and 5-7cm for the 13.56MHz RWD Readers (using 7cm diameter antenna coil and credit card sized cards/tags).

Careful tuning of the antenna in-situ and the use of ferrite materials to shield surrounding metallic objects can also help improve range. A Ferrite rod core for the 125kHz antenna can help “focus” the magnetic flux to give a more directional, longer range field.

As a general rule there is no benefit in having antenna coils any larger than 10cm diameter.

What is the host communication protocol for the Reader products?

The RWD (24-pin) Reader module designs are based around 5-volt TTL serial communication at 9600 baud, 8-bits, 1-stop, no-parity using Tx (output), Rx (input) and CTS (output) signals. The CTS signal provides "hardware handshaking" flow control. The OEM fully-integrated Reader boards are based on the same design and use the same protocol but convert the TTL signals to RS232 levels or USB. The USB interface is provided by an FTDI serial-to-USB conversion chip. The appropriate VCP (Virtual Comm Port) driver must first be installed on your host computer so software can communicate via a (virtual) COM port allocated by the Operating System.

Please refer to the product web pages and product brief for the connector pin-outs.

What is the difference between the RWD modules and the OEM boards?

The 125kHz and 13.56MHz Micro RWD modules are based on a 24-pin wide DIP footprint and have the same pin out and host communication protocol. The modules need a 5-volt supply and an antenna coil connected to be a complete system. The modules use TTL level communication (Tx, Rx and CTS handshaking) and have output pins for Auxiliary communication protocols, LEDs and control.

The OEM Reader boards support the 13.56MHz card/tag types and have on-board antenna, LEDs and RS232 or USB host interfaces. They are designed for “plug-and-go” applications with everything integrated onto a single board. Windows applications are provided together with host software examples to allow easy connection and use with a PC/laptop computer. The Reader commands are highly optimised and there are only a few commands to use so communication software can be easily written for any host computer or Operating System.

The OEM Reader boards are based on the same design and use the same firmware as the Micro RWD MIFARE-ICODE (MICODE) modules.

Your decision should therefore be based on whether you want to use the RWD-MICODE on your own PCB with TTL serial comms (with a simple track antenna around it) or a complete Reader board with full RS232 or USB interface.

Do you have a roadmap to high volume?

We have a strong, connected roadmap from evaluation to high volume. Our modules are pin and host command compatible and can be used for evaluation or full-production depending on your requirements. For higher volume applications, all our products are available as a “Reference Design Pack” containing Schematics, Gerber files. Bill-of-Materials. Customers can then use the chip set in their own products and benefit from a proven, quick time-to-market RFID Reader solutions at lowest-cost and with minimum engineering effort.

How do we design-in your chips-sets?

You would receive our Reference Design Pack. The pack contains schematics, Gerber files, Bill-of-Materials, design layout notes and a few pre-programmed microcontroller samples. We provide technical support and PCB layout guidance and checking services. You can then copy the Reader design onto your PCB and just purchase the pre-programmed microcontroller from IB Technology. Manufacture and procurements of all other components is then completely under your control. This has proved a very popular route for our OEM customers.

Can I use your readers in industrial applications?

Yes. All IBT products use Industrial temperature grade components (-40 deg to + 85 degrees C).

Do you have any guidance for power filtering and EMC / EMI issues?

Noise on the power supply rails is the enemy of any RFID Reader system. Our power supply filtering datasheet shows "worst case" power supply filtering. Please note that the filter is ONLY needed for noisy power supplies.

For typical evaluation we just recommend using a high value, low ESR capacitor (220+uF) across the 5v and ground lines to "smooth out" the current pulses. The use of the high-value, low ESR cap across the rails acts as a reservoir to help "soak up" these pulses. More information can be found in the RFID Reader with RS232 interface datasheet. Again the supply filters and zener protection is included as "worst case" protection but in almost all cases you just need the high-value low-ESR cap across the rails again.

You don’t need the 5-volt filtering and protection if you have a good clean 5-volt supply. You can also ignore the 2 x decoupling capacitors from the antenna to ground. All these “extras” are to “bullet-proof” the design and are not necessary for basic applications.

How to keep power consumption low?

Our readers only turn on the RF for a short period each polling cycle and then power down the RF chip and "SLEEP" during the (programmable) polling dead-time. This means the average current consumption is low with brief current pulses each polling cycle. The average current consumption can be down to 100uA (micro Amps) even when fully active and scanning.

Which module should I get to evaluate Hitag1, Hitag S256 or Hitag S2048 card / tag types?

The best way to evaluate these tags is to buy the RWD-QT (Quad Tag) module with the ANT125K (700uH antenna coil). The default “Reader mode” for the RWD-QT is for Hitag1/S.

I have bought the RWQ-QT but my Hitag2 card does not work and I get a red LED.

The default “Reader mode” for the RWD-QT is for Hitag1/S. Change this mode to read Hitag2 cards.

Can your 5V modules accept 3.3V logic imputs from a 3.3V micro?

All our products are designed to operate at 5-volts. The Micro RWD I/O pins (and the OEM board J2 connector pins) are therefore at 5-volt TTL level BUT can accept 3.3 volts signals from a host microcontroller. If using a 3.3v microcontroller you should ensure that your inputs are 5-volt tolerant or use a potential-divider or level-shifter to reduce the Micro RWD output voltage.

Can the reader read the tag serial number without any host intervention?

Yes, many of the Micro RWD module versions and the OEM Reader boards can be configured to automatically output the card serial number or card memory data without any host intervention. This is a popular feature for customers who just need the serial number information.