The “new” UHF Standard

UHF RFID has taken off in a big way. Many of us have been saying that RFID is the way of the future and now it is starting to be real. The standard for UHF is ISO/IEC 18000-6 (equivalent to the EPCglobal Gen 2 UHF standard). This standard is one of the air interface standards in the ISO/IEC 18000 series for all of the various frequencies.
ISO/IEC 18000-6 is a very large standard. It is available from ISO for about $306.00 and it contains 470 pages. The standard has information and specifications on four different air interfaces (types A, B, C, and D). Type C is the equivalent of the EPCglobal standard and is now the most prevalent UHF standard.
The latest version of ISO/IEC 18000-6 contains enhancements to the Type C air interface that are not included in the EPCglobal version. These enhancements allow the use of sensors and provide details of battery assisted passive RFID tags.
So with ISO/IEC 18000-6 only having been published in 2010 why am I talking about a new standard?
As I explained above, the standard has grown over the years both in size and in price. This has made it difficult to use and with the new enhancements coming, the decision was taken to split the standard into several parts. The new standard will have five parts as follows:
ISO/IEC 18000 – General information
ISO/IEC 18000-61 – Type A
ISO/IEC 18000-62 – Type B
ISO/IEC 18000-63 – Type C
ISO/IEC 18000-64 – Type D
Part 63 – Type C is the equivalent of the EPCglobal Gen 2 standard and it includes the sensor and battery assist specifications.
The revisions to break the original standard into these parts are currently in progress. The work has just passed the first level of balloting at ISO. This means that early in 2012 the new standards should be approved and we will all be using a new number for the UHF standard.  
If you want to know more about the new enhancements to the standard then watch for another article on this subject.
If you have questions about the new standards or how you can be a part of the standards efforts then let me know.

UHF (Ultra High Frequency) (860 – 960 MHz) air interface standards

UHF RFID is probably the most noticed RFID at this time.  While there have been more HF tags issued, the high profile nature of UHF has meant that many more people are aware of UHF RFID.

In the world of RFID, UHF is the newcomer to the fold. HF and LF tags were is use in many places when UHF started to become available. The industry needed a longer range passive tag and UHF is the answer.

The technology normally uses propogative technology like 2.45 GHz, and so like 2.45 GHz it has problems around liquids and materials that absorb the frequency. However it is possible to use the technology in a near field (or inductive) mode similar to LF and HF and this gets around the liquid problems.

The technology in Propogative mode can work at distances of 6 – 8 metres which is a big step up from the range of the other technologies. In Near Field mode this is much less (only 10s of centimeters) but it is possible to build tags with antennas that have the capabilities of both modes.

The frequency range 860 – 960 MHz is a very large range, but it is necessary to have a range this large to encompass all of the regulatory areas in the world.  In the USA, the frequency is 902 – 928 MHz, but in Europe it is 865 – 868 MHz, and in Japan the frequency available is 952 – 957.6 Mhz. So if an UHF tag is going to work all over the world it has to be able to work from 860 – 960 MHz. If you are interested in the various UHF frequencies available around the world you can see them here.

UHF has gained a lot of publicity and use with the release of the EPCglobal UHF Gen 2 standard. This standards improved the performance of the original ISO/IEC 18000-6 Type A and Type B air interface protocols.  ISO took the work of EPCglobal, and suggested some changes which were then incorporated back into the EPCglobal standard. ISO released this work as Type C in ISO/IEC 18000-6.

Recently the ISO workgroup has just finished work on changes to ISO/IEC 18000-6 and a new version was published on December 1, 2010. This new version includes several new features:

  • Support for sensors
  • Support for battery assist
  • New Type D air interface based on the TOTAL (Tag Only Talks After Listen) protocol of iPico.

The release of the EPCglobal standard lead to the adoption of UHF by several groups. First of these was Wal-Mart.  Their mandates to force suppliers into tagging cases and pallets were the first time that RFID was seriously used in the retail market place. The US Department of Defense followed shortly after with a mandate to tag items over a specified value. Other organizations have also taken the use of UHF RFID to heart and required the tagging of items to the standards for this frequency.

The latest use of UHF is the tagging of apparel in a test of item level tagging. Wal-Mart has lead the charge with the decision to tag specialty jeans and underwear.  This was quickly adopted by other retailers and is rapidly becoming a major test for RFID.

Information technology — Radio frequency identification for item management — Part 6:Parameters for air interface communications at 860 MHz to 960 MHz


This part of ISO/IEC 18000 defines the air interface for radio frequency identification (RFID) devices operating in the 860 MHz to 960 MHz Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) band used in item management applications. It provides a common technical specification for RFID devices that can be used by ISO committees developing RFID application standards. This part of ISO/IEC 18000 is intended to allow for compatibility and to encourage inter-operability of products for the growing RFID market in the international marketplace. It defines the forward and return link parameters for technical attributes including, but not limited to, operating frequency, operating channel accuracy, occupied channel bandwidth, maximum effective isotropic radiated power (EIRP), spurious emissions, modulation, duty cycle, data coding, bit rate, bit rate accuracy, bit transmission order, and, where appropriate, operating channels, frequency hop rate, hop sequence, spreading sequence, and chip rate. It further defines the communications protocol used in the air interface.

This part of ISO/IEC 18000 specifies the physical and logical requirements for a passive-backscatter, Interrogator-Talks-First (ITF) or tag-talks-only-after-listening (TOTAL) RFID system. The system comprises Interrogators, and tags, also known as labels. An Interrogator receives information from a tag by transmitting a continuous-wave (CW) RF signal to the tag; the tag responds by modulating the reflection coefficient of its antenna, thereby backscattering an information signal to the Interrogator. The system is ITF, meaning that a tag modulates its antenna reflection coefficient with an information signal only after being directed to do so by an Interrogator, or TOTAL, meaning that a tag modulates its antenna reflection coefficient with an information signal upon entering an Interrogator's field after first listening for Interrogator modulation in order to determine if the system is ITF or not.

In detail, this part of ISO/IEC 18000 contains one mode with four types. The detailed technical differences between the four types are shown in the associated parameter tables.

Types A, B and C are ITF. Type A uses Pulse-Interval Encoding (PIE) in the forward link and an adaptive ALOHA collision-arbitration algorithm. Type B uses Manchester in the forward link and an adaptive binary-tree collision-arbitration algorithm. Type C uses PIE in the forward link and a random slotted collision-arbitration algorithm.

Type D is TOTAL based on Pulse Position Encoding or Miller M=2 encoded subcarrier.


Frequency – who defines it?

In the world of radio, the frequencies that are allowed are strictly controlled. On a global basis the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is an agency of the United Nations and it divides the world into three areas for regulatory issues. These are:

Region 1 – Europe, Middle East, Africa, the former Soviet Union, including Siberia; and Mongolia;

Region 2 – North and South America and Pacific (East of the International Date Line);

Region 3 – Asia, Australia and the Pacific Rim (West of the International Date Line).

This applies for RFID as well. Each region has countries that have their own regulatory authority.  In the USA, the frequencies are controlled by the FCC, in Europe it is CEPT(in particular Electronic Communications Committee (ECC)). In other parts of the world, other Regulatory Agencies control frequency allocations (in Japan it is the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications(MIC)).

There are six frequency bands that are important to RFID. These are:

  • <135 kHz
  • 13.56 MHz
  • 315/433 MHz
  • 860 – 960 MHz
  • 2.45 GHz
  • 5.8 GHz

The regulations governing each frequency vary by Region and by Country

Region 1

The main controlling document for the European regions is ERC RECOMMENDATION 70-03. This document shows in Annex 1 the main characteristics for each frequency. The following European standards relate to these frequencies. These can be obtained from the ETSI web site(you need to register to get documents):

  • EN 300 220
  • EN 300 330
  • EN 300 440
  • EN 302 208
  • EN 302 291

Region 2

The main controlling document for the USA is Title 47: Telecommunication – PART 15—RADIO FREQUENCY DEVICES. Specifically sections 15.225, 15.240, 15.245, 15.247, and 15.249. Other countries may follow other rules, but many follow the FCC rules (for example Canada uses the FCC rules as a basis for their 902 – 928 MHz rules for RFID).  To be sure of the exact requirement for a particular country it is necessary to contact that countries regulatory agency.

Region 3

There is no over-riding document for Region 3. Some countries will follow parts of the European standards, others may lean to the FCC rules and yet others will have their own regulations.

The appropriate research should always be done before any installation is started.