Motorola Rolls Out “Me, Too” Small RFID Reader

Written by Evan Schuman
April 28th, 2009

Riding small CPUs enabling much smaller form factors, Motorola on Tuesday (April 28) introduced a 1.8-pound fixed RFID reader measuring 7.7 inches long, 5.9 inches wide and 1.7 inches deep. The vendor described the FX7400 series units as being “less than half the size of traditional fixed RFID readers, making (them) ideal for retail stores and other customer-facing environments.”

But analysts were less than impressed, pointing out that the Motorola units were actually larger than many other major RFID readers today, despite being smaller than other Motorola RFID readers. “I definitely classify this as ‘ho hum.’ ThingMagic and Impinj as well as some others have much smaller form factors and more functions,” said Pete Abell, a longtime RFID analyst (used to be with IDC) who today works as an independent consultant. “Do not know price point but this at least keeps them in the game for readers both fixed and mobile, where they excel.”

Paula Rosenblum, a technology analyst with RSR Research, said her read of the Motorola statement was that it didn’t “particularly grab me. There are some specs I’m not aware of, or didn’t see, most notably: how far away can it read? A tool is just a tool without an application.”

That all said, even if Motorola’s reader is not the among the best and the lightest, it is still an impressively portable unit from a major supplier. “The specs appear to be considerably smaller than what I have seen in the past,” said another analyst, IHL President Greg Buzek. “The low weight in particular is a benefit for mounting.”

Motorola pitched the line as something that can be “installed under point-of-sale counters, behind walls or on ceilings,” making it potentially effective “for item-level tracking, retail inventory management, file tracking and asset management applications in environments where performance and a small footprint are critical.”

RFID is not without its critics and cynics, who question whether RFID will ever become a sustainable profitable capability beyond isolated projects. Rosenblum counts herself among them. “I have always been Nancy Negative when it comes to a technology like RFID, which is essentially in search of an application,” she said. “Who is going to use it? What are these ‘growing needs’? And why do they lend themselves to fixed readers versus handhelds?”

Arguably, a less-than-2-pound unit that is smaller than 8 inches long, 6 inches wide and 2 inches deep is pretty close to a handheld, if it’s not already there. And if it’s not, it’s at most a year away. But the point isn’t the amorphous distinction between a handheld and a fixed reader (anyone care to tackle the difference between a PDA and a smartphone?) as much as it’s what that kind of power in such a small footprint can potentially do. Call it what you will, but if IT wants to get creative, there’s a huge potential there, regardless of whether it’s using RFID or a dozen other technologies.

Miniaturization is a wonderful thing, but only if shrinking footprints are matched by growing IT imaginations.


2 Comments | Read Motorola Rolls Out “Me, Too” Small RFID Reader

  1. Joe White Says:

    I spent most of my 8-year career in RFID at Matrics, Symbol, and Motorola driving innovation in the RFID hardware space, can be credited with many firsts in RFID, and I am more educated in RFID than most. While I am no longer part of Motorola, I felt the article unfairly characterized the value of the platform for customers and I want to highlight why I see this as much more than a “me, too” reader.

    First, there is no released RFID reader in the market that combines this small size, 4 ports, output power, and aesthetics. Some of the quoted analysts talk about them but I can say with confidence they do not exist today. I am well aware that some people are developing such products however none are in the market today.

    Having personally interfaced with retailers adopting RFID, form factor and aesthetics are a must have for in-store applications and without that retailers will not move forward. Additional features I find appealing in this platform include power over Ethernet which dramatically reduces installation time and costs. While I am aware of two other RFID readers that have POE, I am not aware of any with 4 ports, 1-watt output, and packaged so nicely. In addition to the POE the product has a plenum rating. Most do not pick up on this feature but plenum-rating means the product meets the fire and safety standards of hiding the unit behind ceiling tiles and enclosed spaces. This is a very useful and a needed feature missing from every reader in the market.

    As a systems integrator and software provider I also am glad to see this platform is offered on a Microsoft Windows platform which speeds my application development time. I am also not aware of another platform built upon Microsoft OS that meets the characteristics and features referenced above.

    While not a strong product differentiation, I am also very pleased to see that Motorola is offering a platform that meets the market needs and will be there for the long haul for my customers. Investments into the business from other enterprise players have seemingly slowed and it’s reassuring to see Motorola’s continued commitment with the release of this product. Customers like the reassurances that as they invest in the technology so are the enterprise suppliers.

    With all of that said, I do agree that the “RFID innovation” in this new release reader is lacking, however, the truth is there is little to innovate on anymore. I think that an article on “where RFID Innovation in readers will come from” would be an appropriate angle to take. Like most maturing technologies UHF RFID hitting a ceiling and will likely not see many new break-thru leaps anytime soon. The technology is at a maturity point where its good enough for adoption and now the ball is back in the customer court to adopt before significant investment flows back into the space to drive new leaps in innovation. RFID hardware is fast becoming an ingredient technology where the true innovation is occurring in application specific form factors and
    yes that’s boring to talk about ……but its what drives adoption.

    In closing this platform hits the mark for the emerging application of retail item level apparel where no other vendors’ products come close. I applaud my former colleagues for having focus and meeting the mark for a product that should accelerate adoption in Item Level Retail. This product hits a sweet spot for cost, size, features, and performance for 80% of the applications being adopted. Yes, maybe that is not exciting to report on but I do not know of another product that does so better.

    Joe White
    RFID Global Solution, Inc.

  2. Bob Matson Says:

    Joe; I enjoyed your notes about this new product. I too am a pioneer in the RFID world, although not in the news. My background as an RF design consultant began in 1978 while at the Ga Tech Engineering and Experiment Station in Atlanta. Since then, I have developed hundreds of wireless products, including the entire line of active RFID systems at ActiveWave Inc. I now am busy designing my own products.

    Many clients want “smaller and cheaper”, so I became adept at using tiny tweezers to build pc boards.

    My latest product is a Combination UHF Active AND Passive Reader.

    There are 2 ports at present, programmable 1Watt RF output, and Gen 2 compliant. It may be wirelessly remote-controlled from up to 300 feet away; act as an Active Tag and Tag Repeater, can monitor temperature, and several other other items of interest…..I’m thinking about additional features;
    maybe POE, USB, or CF card compatible.

    The current design will soon be completed and field trials will begin shortly. I am interested in feed back from the industry regarding any additional features of interest, as this design may be highly customized.

    It is the size of 2 US 39 cent stamps and very low-cost.

    Bob Matson
    Matson Technologies LLC


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