Ekahau’s “Infrastructureless” Tags

Positioning technology maker Ekahau of Saratoga, Calif., this week announced that it is getting into the nascent radio frequency identification (RFID) field by releasing battery powered tags that will include Wi-Fi chips. The tags can be tracked using the latest version of the company’s positioning software.

RFID gets a lot of press these days, especially with big names like Wal-Mart looking to the technology to keep track of its stock. However, most RFID tags don’t use Wi-Fi. Right now, the only other announced 802.11-based tags are the Aeroscout tags made by competitor Bluesoft. Aeroscout tags are used with Bluesoft’s own location server software and require installation of special hardware receivers to track them.

That’s where Ekahau’s T101 tags will differ, says Tuomo Rutanen, Ekahau’s vice president of business development.

“You don’t need any special readers, portals, or scanners. [If] you’ve got a network — use the same network.” He says with Bluesoft, “you’re still talking about an extra infrastructure build out.”

Ekahau has upgraded its Ekahau Positioning Engine (EPE) to version 3.0 to take advantage of the T101 tags. The software will include a new protocol to make the location of any devices with Wi-Fi instantly traceable. Previous versions of the EPE required clients to run a background service in Windows or on PDAs. Now the EPE will “interrogate” the Wi-Fi chipset of all devices to get signal strength info and use it to pinpoint the location.

The T101 tag itself isn’t very small compared to other RFID tags because it has to accommodate an 802.11g/b chip; it measures 1 x 2.6 x 2.6 inches. Rutanen says other sizes are likely as chips get smaller.

However, the current size means the tag can come with a strong battery, in this case a Lithium Ion that Rutanen says will last up to 4 or 5 years depending on the blink rate, which is adjustable over the air. Some models will come with a rechargeable battery — they’re expected to be tied into the power supply of whatever they’re tracking. He used a forklift in a major warehouse as an example.

The T101 tags will start to ship at the end of June with a price of $4,990 for five tags and a 15-client version of the EPE 3.0. Additional tags are $65 each.

Wi-Fi Planet Conference

Wondering how well Wi-Fi-based RFID works?

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, June 8-10, 2004 at the Baltimore Convention Center in Baltimore, MD.

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