Leadership in the IoT (S1:E28)

Leadership in the IoT (S1:E28)

RFID innovator and entrepreneur Manfred Rietzler, Identiv’s new strategic advisor and founder of Smartrac Group, joins us to talk about the versatility and future of RFID. As the real link between the metaverse and the physical world, Manfred explores what’s coming next for the IoT and RFID, from UHF and active tags to cloud-connected NFC.

Full Transcript

Announcer (00:01):
You’re listening to Humans in Tech. Our podcast explores today’s most transformative technology and the trends of tomorrow, bringing together the brightest minds in and outside of our industry. We unpack what’s new in physical access, identity verification, cybersecurity, and IoT ecosystems. We reach beyond the physical world, discuss our digital transformation as a species, and dive into the emerging phygital experience. Join us on our journey as we discover just how connected the future will be and how we will fit into that picture. Your host is Leigh Dow, VP of Global Marketing at Identiv.

Leigh Dow (00:43):
Thank you for joining us. Today Manfred Rietzler, (an entrepreneur and investor in several groundbreaking fields, including radio frequency identification, computer vision, robotics, and renewable energies,) is with us. Manfred is a recognized authority figure in strategic business analysis and planning, business case modeling, product design, and project management in information technology. He has recently joined the Identiv team as a Strategic Advisor to help us further strengthen our world-class RFID team, and to work with the Identiv executive leadership team. Although Manfred is based in Bangkok, Thailand, I understand you’re in Germany at the moment. Thank you so much for joining us. I know it’s quite late there.

Manfred Rietzler (01:24):
Yeah, hello. Hello, Leigh. Thanks for having me. Yes, I’m living in Bangkok, but currently in Germany.

Leigh Dow (01:34):
Manfred, you have a really impressive entrepreneurial spirit and career path. Can you give us some more background on your experience with RFID products in particular?

Manfred Rietzler (01:43):
Yes, happy to do that. It’s right. I’m since more than 25 years in the RFID business, so RFID is the technology I’ve spent most of my time in over the last years. One of the most important steps in my career was the foundation of the company, Smartrac, which is now around 20 years ago. We had started Smartrac out of Thailand, so this is the reason why I got to Thailand. Smartrac was one of the first companies fully focused on RFID manufacturing, and became the global leader in tag manufacturing.

Leigh Dow (02:26):
What was that like 20 years ago embarking in a new country and a new technology? For you, what was that experience like?

Manfred Rietzler (02:37):
Of course, 20 years is a long time and it guided me through several evolutionary steps. RFID went through different frequencies over this time. It’s 20 years ago, so we were even working on 125 kilohertz systems. Then later this evolved into HF, the 13.56 megahertz technology, and then later on we got into the UHF technology working at 900 megahertz. So it was a transition through different frequencies and different physical properties. It was also a big transition on the semiconductor side, on the chip side. We started up with very simple read-only chips with just a couple of bits of memory, and over time this developed into highly sophisticated, secure crypto controllers with hundreds of kilobytes of memories.

The other transition we went through over this time was the adoption of RFID into different markets, and this for me was the most interesting experience. So, we started with 125 kilohertz chip cards for applications like just ski lifts in the Alps, or identification of animals working at 125 kilohertz. Then later when the HF technology came up, HF enabled the application of secure RFID, being used in identification cards and passports for people. So the higher data transfer HF enabled the secure communication between the chip and the reader, and especially in the years after September 11, it was a time where secure applications had really boomed.

So then we went through the deployment of the biometric passport, where I personally was heavily involved on the worldwide implementation. At the same time, RFID migrated also into the financial world in the form of contactless credit cards. The contactless credit card form factor just gained recently a lot of popularity because of its default contactless feature. Contactless means there’s no direct contact. This means during COVID and Corona times, no contact means less spread of viruses.

Leigh Dow (05:34):
So, when you started this journey so long ago, did you foresee or could you have imagined that with the advent of IoT that the possibilities for RFID would truly be limitless?

Manfred Rietzler (05:51):
It was obvious. It was obvious that RFID is such a versatile technology that at the end of the day it will migrate into anything because of the big range of RFID features, from very simple and tiny RFID chips to identify even simple consumer products, up to highly sophisticated, secure chips to identify people. So, it enabled everything. For me it was very clear that at the end we will end up in an IoT world.

Leigh Dow (06:29):
You’ve achieved some really phenomenal technological milestones and some of the earliest applications for high frequency and near-field communication. Let’s talk a little bit about the advances in technology with those, and what you think is next with HF and NFC.

Manfred Rietzler (06:47):
You mentioned HF and NFC. Before we jump into the next, let me maybe dig into just describing what is HF and what is NFC.

Leigh Dow (07:02):
That would be great.

Manfred Rietzler (07:03):
Because there are a lot of misunderstandings of what is NFC and HF, and basically they are the same, or in many cases they are the same. First was the HF, so everything started with HF transponders. There are even ISO standards around, for instance, the ISO 14443 and ISO 15693. These were typical RFID standards developed to define communication protocols for tags.

And then out of these standards, the mobile phone industry developed the NFC protocol. This means the mobile phone industry developed an interface like Bluetooth, but the NFC interface is compliant to HF tags. So this means an NFC tag is more or less an HF tag which can be read by an NFC-enabled mobile phone. So, many people don’t know this background story because it goes back over 20 years, but it’s important to understand the meaning of NFC.

Leigh Dow (08:15):
Excellent.

Manfred Rietzler (08:17):
So, you asked for what’s next. First, frequency-wise what comes after HF and NFC is UHF. This is just higher frequencies in the 900 megahertz area, microwave, and the advantage of UHF is RFID tags can read over a long distance. The read distance can go up to 10, 15, to 20 meters. So this is much more than typically HF tags can do. And of course, long read distance enables a lot of new applications, specifically in logistics. So tracking products, tracking shipments. So, these are new markets, and for Identiv we have to find the right positioning in these markets.

Other upcoming technologies where Identiv already has developed interesting technology is the field of active tags. Identiv has already an interesting battery technology. So, to print batteries on top of the tags, and from my understanding … So, for a lot of applications we can find markets where the tags use the battery power to act all the time, not just being able to act when the tag is in the field of the reader.

A third element I see as a new area for Identiv is the field of connected tags. Connected tags are, so to say, NFC tags which come with a kind of already predefined and pre-configured cloud connection. So, they come with kind of a mailbox to the tag. This would enable the system owners or brand owners to communicate with each individual tag. So, these are three interesting business areas, so I think over the next couple of months we should talk about these and try to find new opportunities for Identiv.

Leigh Dow (10:44):
Definitely. How do you envision your position as a Strategic Advisor with Identiv?

Manfred Rietzler (10:50):
For me, Identiv is a very interesting company. Good people, good technology, innovation spirit. Personally, I see a lot of potential in Identiv, and I’ve known several of the key persons of Identiv for quite a long time since we were active in the same markets, in the RFID markets. So I look forward to become more active in the RFID market, again, since I was passive for a while after I had left my positions at Smartrac a couple of years ago. So for me, this engagement comes at a good time. I’m an RFID guy, so I’m happy to get back in the RFID business.

Leigh Dow (11:38):
You ready to get back and mix it up?

Manfred Rietzler (11:41):
Mix it up, yeah. The RFID business is already there for two or three decades, but it’s still growing in a very dynamic environment, and still growing with double-digit rates. So, there’s a lot of work to do.

Leigh Dow (11:59):
It’s a fairly new technology for me, being at Identiv in just over the last two years. I do have a semiconductor background, so that piece of it was very familiar to me. But just learning more and more about all of the different use cases and potential applications for the technology has been really fascinating.

Manfred Rietzler (12:18):
Yes, for sure. Because RFID can be combined in any existing other business for the purpose of just giving a product, giving an object, giving a person, giving it a digital identification. So to say, RFID can be the real link between the meta-world, the pure virtual world, and the real world.

Leigh Dow (12:18):
Exactly.

Manfred Rietzler (12:58):
Because the meta-world can use an RFID tag as a small window into the real world to recognize what’s going on.

Leigh Dow (13:04):
We call it the phygital, “getting phygital”.

Manfred Rietzler (13:08):
Phygital. Yeah, right.

Leigh Dow (13:09):
I understand that you’ve created more than 300 patents and patent applications. Identiv is a company that focuses on innovating technology solutions in so many different spaces, so this seems to be just a completely natural fit for you and alignment. What are your thoughts on that?

Manfred Rietzler (13:26):
Yes, yes. This is right. I have created many patents over the years. Many of them are in the RFID space. Some others are in alternative energy, also in robotics. But the majority of the patents I had created are in the RFID applications. So I have already broad overview about the IP landscape in RFID.

On the other hand, I’m a strong believer of IP protection. The technical field patents are the only reliable IP protection. In today’s fast world where products and product information move fast, only a strong IP protection can secure the rights of a company, to enable the company to earn money on products they’ve developed over long times. So, as far as I can see from now, Identiv is already in a good IP position. But over the next couple of weeks or months, I think we will work with the team and have a deeper look into the existing situation. It’s also important to identify the new areas floating around in the RFID labs in order to protect good ideas at very early stages. The earlier you can create a new patent, the broader the protection of the idea can be at the end.

I personally see a lot of potential in creating new ideas for RFID applications. So not only the tags, but also the applications. Because RFID can be seen as a platform technology, as we had discussed before, and this technology can more or less be deployed everywhere. So, besides the pure tag patents, I think we should also look in the future into application patents.

Leigh Dow (15:32):
Oh, that’s really interesting. I know that it’s just such an exciting time for you to join us, as well, because the team is growing, we have a lot of really great new additions to the team who are bringing new ideas to the table, and new approaches to the use cases and applications. So it’s a very exciting time for you to join us.

Manfred Rietzler (15:53):
Yeah. Well, it’s exciting for me to work with new teams, and to work with old friends.

Leigh Dow (15:59):
Exactly. Manfred, we really appreciate you joining us from Germany at such a late hour. We’re definitely looking forward to working with you.

Manfred Rietzler (16:07):
Okay. I look forward to working with you and to meet you.

Leigh Dow (16:07):
Thank you.

Announcer (16:14):
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Physical security, identity verification, the IoT … The hyperconnectivity of our lives will only grow more pervasive. As technology becomes more automated and experiences more augmented, it’s up to us to preserve our humanity and use new tools and trends for good. The only question is: Are we up for the challenge?