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Companies collaborate in development of IoT tags

Socionext, ZiFiSense, and Techsor are collaborating in the development of an SoC for ZETag, a next generation, low cost, low power consumption IC tag.

The companies plan to complete a prototype chip in 2020 and start volume production in 2021.

The ZETag SoC incorporates the LPWA ZETA-G protocol proposed by ZiFiSense with Socionext’s design experience in RF and MCU to implement the functionalities that currently require two silicon dies into one SoC, resulting in significant cost, area and power savings and improved performance.

According to a research firm IDtexEX Research, a total of 15.5 billion IC tags were shipped worldwide in 2018 and the market is estimated to be with over $12 billion in 2020.

Most of the IC tags currently in use are passive tags, which do not have a power supply. However, active IC tags, which have a built-in power supply and are capable of transmitting signals from themselves, are expected to become more popular in advanced applications. Existing active tags, however, cost around several tens of dollars, and transmission distance is less than 100 meters. Lowering price and performance improvement need to be addressed if active IC tags are to be utilised for wider applications.

The ZETag is a next-generation IC tag which incorporates ZETA-G LPWA protocol proposed by ZiFiSense, and its transmission can reach several kilometres. Socionext's proprietary RF and low-power MCU technologies will allow the functionalities of the tags, which currently require two separate chips, RF and MCU, to be implemented into a single SoC. It will reduce the cost to the extent that the tags can be used as disposable. At the same time, smaller size, lower power consumption and improved performance eliminate the restrictions of conventional active tags, making significant contribution to the realisation of smart logistics and to the dramatic expansion of the use.

The companies plan to complete a prototype chip in 2020 and start volume production in 2021.

The ZETags are intended to push the boundary of IoT sensor usage, covering broader applications from durable goods to consumables. Proposed applications include asset management for industrial sectors, end-to-end visualization of products and containers in logistics, control of hazardous waste, and storage and disposal of medical supplies and waste.

The ZETags are also expected to be utilised in management of building structure, warehouse inventory, and livestock. The relevant IoT solutions would cover the markets of several tens of billion dollars.

“The collaboration enables Socionext to leverage its expertise in advanced SoC technology and high-performance RF and MODEM designs, and incorporate them into ZETA technology to deliver cost effective and low power products,” said Teruaki Hasegawa, Head of Connected Solution Team, Automotive & Industrial Business Group at Socionext.

“The ZETag SoC, which we develop together with ZiFiSense and Techsor, will create new areas of growth in various “smart” sectors including smart cities, smart medicals, smart productions, as well as smart logistics, and help achieve an affordable and rapid digital transformation.”

Neil Tyler

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