Radio waves are part of the electromagnetic spectrum, occurring at frequencies lower than those of visible light. As the frequencies get higher, the wavelengths get smaller, which means that you need a larger antenna to capture lower frequency radio signals than you need for higher frequencies. (This is why a VHF — 49 to 216 MHz — television antenna is typically larger than a UHF — 450 to 952 MHz — TV antenna.) Passive RFID technology uses radio waves to power an ID tag that then transmits its identification information back to the reader. These typically are designed to use frequencies in the 900 to 915 MHz range. All this is preamble to a new development from Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems (IPMS) where researchers have come up with a new RFID technology that operates in the 24 GHz band.

This higher frequency makes it possible to use a much smaller antenna. The wavelength is a mere 1.24 cm (about half an inch), which means that the antenna can be built right onto the RFID chip, eliminating extra parts and simplifying assembly. The new design allows for tags that are 2.5 by 1.5 mm and just .15 mm thick. They can be manufactured at low cost and easily incorporated into packaging and devices. The result is a passive, non-contact ID system that can be read from a few millimeters. The tags can be used for tickets for public transportation and smartcards, but can also have applications for any high-quality or expensive product that needs to be uniquely identified, including pharmaceutical products. This identification will help deter theft and counterfeit products.

The new RFID tags use a transmission protocol that conforms with an international standard: ISO 1800-6c (also known as EPC C1G2). This technology could provide a low-cost way to increase the security of medications, wearable Health Tech devices, and consumables related to healthcare applications.