Innovating NFC in the UK with Innovision

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Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

At the beginning of April I met with the senior management team from Innovision Research & Technology at the Royal Society for the Arts in London. David Wollen, the CEO, and Marc Borrett, Business Development Director gave the briefing.

So, who is Innovision Research & Technology? Well, they are a leading fabless[1] custom RF IC design and systems provider, offering a complete engineering capability to their clients, including research engineering, custom IC design and production, and system design engineering. The company’s primary focus is short-range data communication from one device to another, passive and/or active, with a special emphasis on Near Field Communication (NFC) and RFID solutions. They have their headquarters in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, UK. Innovision R&T was listed in 2001 on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) of the London Stock Exchange (ticker symbol: INN).

Do you understand what NFC is? Well for those not familiar with this TLA, here is a brief explanation. Wikipedia defines Near Field Communication (NFC), as a short-range high-frequency wireless communication technology, which enables the exchange of data between devices over about a 10 centimetre (~4 inches) distance.

NFC is based on RFID. The technology is an extension of the ISO 14443 proximity-card standard (contactless card, RFID) that combines the interface of a smartcard and a reader into a single device. NFC communicates via magnetic field induction, where two loop antennas are located within each other’s near field, effectively forming an air-core transformer. It operates within the globally available and unlicensed radio frequency ISM band of 13.56 MHz, with a bandwidth of almost 2 MHz. An NFC device can communicate with both existing ISO 14443 smartcards and readers, as well as with other NFC devices, and is thereby compatible with existing contactless infrastructure already in use for public transportation and payment. NFC is primarily aimed at usage in mobile phones. Industry analysts have predicted that by 2011, 30 per cent of all mobile phones that ship will be NFC-enabled. Plenty of applications are possible, such as:

  • Mobile ticketing in public transport—an extension of the existing contactless infrastructure.
  • Mobile Payment—the device acts as a debit/credit payment card.
  • Smart poster—the mobile phone is used to read RFID tags on outdoor billboards in order to get info on the move.
  • Bluetooth pairing—in the future, pairing of Bluetooth 2.1 devices with NFC support will be as easy as bringing them close together and accepting the pairing. The process of activating Bluetooth on both sides, searching, waiting, pairing and authorisation will be replaced by a simple “touch” of the mobile phones.

Innovision has been involved in NFC from the start. They have partnered with a major global handset manufacturer to develop “best in class” NFC architectures, designs and silicon implementations to ensure NFC chipsets can achieve not only the technical performance but also the commercial imperatives of cost and physical size. They have developed a range of coreware IP that has been optimised for low power implementations and is therefore highly efficient. Innovision’s NFC offerings:

  • Custom NFC IP and IC design solutions for integrated System on Chip (SoC) solutions for a range of IC platforms such as Bluetooth, WiFi, UWB and WiMax.
  • Topaz—mandated by NFC Forum as the Type 1 NFC Forum Tag Format.

Innovision is a member of the NFC Forum and currently chairs the Tags and Formats task force working group, helping to develop the future NFC standards for payments, ticketing, peer-to-peer connectivity and service initiation implementations.

So, here we have a groundbreaking technology and a British company at the forefront and yet how well known is this fact?

[1] Definition: (FABricationLESS) A semiconductor vendor that does not have inhouse manufacturing facilities. Although it designs and tests the chips, it relies on external foundries (fabs) for their actual fabrication. (PC Magazine)