Mister Beacon Episode #183
Beyond the Chip: RFID Innovations from EM MicroelectronicJanuary 09, 2024
Welcome to the Mr. Beacon Podcast, in this episode, join me as I sit down with Pierre Muller, a key figure within the RFID ecosystem and the RFID Business Unit manager at EM Microelectronic, a semiconductor provider with a rich history spanning over 25 years.
Recorded live from the AIPIA SHOW in Amsterdam, this insightful conversation delves into the roots of EM Microelectronic, initially known for crafting chips for Swatch watches. The discussion takes a deep dive into the nuances of RFID technology, exploring the dynamics between UHF RFID and NFC.
We discuss the competitive landscape with EM Microelectronic's position in comparison to other industry leaders and uncover the innovative dual-frequency chip that combines UHF RFID and NFC, discussing the applications for the technology.
Explore the role of the RFID RAIN Alliance and the impact on inventory and supply chain management.
Ever wondered why the barrier to entry is high for RFID technology? Tune in as the conversation unveils the intricacies of the semiconductor industry, and the fascinating economics behind it.
And that's not all – ponder the potential synergy between UHF RFID and Bluetooth, BLE. Will EM Microelectronic ever introduce projects that fuse these technologies? Find out as we navigate the cutting-edge intersection of RFID and the broader technological landscape.
Pierre’s Top 3 Songs:
Mack the Knife by Louis Armstrong: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28ULUQgxJ5M
Is This Love by Bob Marley: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=co2FK0WbXX0
In The End by Linkin Park: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mZURD3LAW0
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Steve Statler 00:00
Welcome to the Mr. Beacon podcast. This week I'm going to be talking to Pierre Muller, who is the RFID Business Unit Manager at EM Microelectronic, it's going to be, dive into the world of auto ID rain RFID. And an opportunity to get to know a really interesting company em microelectronic part of the Swatch Group. And so they started off making the chips for watches, and now have a significant place generating or designing the chips that go into RFID tags. So Pierre is on the board of directors of rain, the industry organization that presides over and basically cultivates the the standards and the application of UHF RFID. We've actually had the leader of rain, the chief executive of RAIN on the podcast, you can dig through the archives for that. Pierre is really knowledgeable, and so we get him to position and talk about where rain is. My rate is irrelevant. He's also a contributor to the ISO standards. And he's gone from one switch company semiconductor company to another he started his career off at St. micro electronics. So I learned a lot from talking to him. The conversations in a bit of a noisy environment. So we had it had our session at the AIPIA conference, the active intelligent packaging Association. They meet every year, around about this time to November, in Amsterdam, and it's just an amazing show. It's a bit of an insider's show. But if you want to talk to the insiders in this industry, it's a great place to go. They do a superb job of organizing it. So hopefully you can put up with a bit of background noise. Our own our wizard of the editing suite has done his best to to wipe the distracting noises out here you enjoy this interview. The Mr. Beacon Ambient IoT podcast is sponsored by Wiliot, bringing intelligence to every single thing. So Pierre thanks very much for coming on to the Mr. Beacon podcast.
Pierre Muller 02:43
Thank you for inviting me here.
Steve Statler 02:45
Well, we're in Amsterdam, which is pretty cool at this beautiful old historic building. It used to be the stock exchange, I believe, and it's the AIPIA show I spell it out, but some people just kind of abbreviate it. But basically, it's smart packaging show. What is why are you here? What's the driver for em microelectronics where you work being at this show?
Pierre Muller 03:17
So yeah, EM Microelectronic company, part of this large group based in Switzerland. And inside this company, we are doing much more than just, we're doing semiconductor. But we are doing more than just watch semiconductor.
Steve Statler 03:30
But you do make I assume that em micro makes chips that go in the swatch washers.
Pierre Muller 03:38
That's the reason why we exist.
Steve Statler 03:39
Right. And was that like an acquisition did swatch decide we need chips? We're going to buy a chip company, or did it sort of grow organically?
Pierre Muller 03:49
No, that's an acquisition. But that happened I think 40 years back. Wow. So I think EM Micro was founded in 75, if I'm correct, and acquisition is in the early 80s.
Steve Statler 04:04
Okay, well, that's interesting. So Swatch buys a company to make the chips and the watches. And I used to be a huge collector of Swatch watches before I got my Apple Watch was really killed a lot of the fun and collecting watches. And now you can just collect bands. But I assume that this business has grown into something pretty significant. You're a major player in the RFID ecosystem. So maybe you can tell us a bit about what are the products that EM Micro sells into RFID?
Pierre Muller 04:42
So EM Micro has been in the RFID since ever since the early days of RFID more than 30 years ago and as pioneer many of the standards whether for low frequency or NFC or UHF we even deliver UHF chip before the UHF sounder was existing And we've been part of the the first mass deployment with Martin Spencer in 2005, for UHF RFID. So it's it's it's really part of the DNA of IBM to be an innovator and to try to, to differentiate from competition being a Swiss company, we need to have this kind of positioning where we can provide added value to our customer. And with this long legacy of products, we are one of the few actors in RFID that are present in the different segments. And that can offer the IC for the different different frequency band, low frequency, NFC, UHF.
Steve Statler 05:39
And what is what is, so UHF is the rain RFID, the RFID tags that you find on apparel, in the hang labels, and so forth. And those are the tags that are used with these big scanners where you want to track exactly inventory. NFC is where you're tapping?
Pierre Muller 06:02
Exactly, that's the customer interaction that NFC is the technology you're using when you tap to pay with your smartphone. Or when you that's also used. Typically in Europe, in the ski resort, there is a lot of the access point what we call access control. But that's basically your ski pass will be will be NFC technology. And when you're moving through the gates, that NFC gates that are on the ski resorts.
Steve Statler 06:28
You're going through the ski resorts, Are you tapping the pass on to the reader or is it just reading, it just.
Pierre Muller 06:35
It's reading at a distance there you have a significant size antenna and it's reading, you basically have your ski pass directly on your cloth. And, you know pocket, you can just go through.
Steve Statler 06:46
That is interesting, because obviously, I live in the United States, I see NFC through the lens of the US where for the longest time, you know, NFC was kind of big in Europe. And it was nowhere in the US. It was nowhere in payments, it was nowhere in terms of tags. Now, I think here in this or they're in the States, we have learned that you tap pay, but the range is very short.
Pierre Muller 07:17
So in the NFC In fact, we we call the HF for the but it's very technology oriented because that's that's really what qualifying the radio band that you're using.
Steve Statler 07:29
So what is the band that so high frequency HF is what's used with near field communications, NFC for both payments and for the stickers. Yep. And I interrupted you. So I just wanted to so carry on with what you were gonna say.
Pierre Muller 07:49
Yeah, so these frequencies 13 14.5 megahertz. And the same frequency is used, whether you're using what we call some kind of HF reader, which are industrial reader that can read at a distance like one meter that's typically used on this keypads. And the antenna might be the antenna will be larger for the tag so that you got a good good read ranch. NFC is really coming with the smartphone, it's using the standard that was already existing prior to that, and, and is, is really much more focused on the short term distance because it has been driven by the payment industry where the shorter distance is also a way to keep privacy. Yes. And, and also by the simple fact that your smartphone is limited in terms of energy, and you don't want to overspend the energy trying to read things at a long distance.
Steve Statler 08:42
So the NFC tag, and also there's NFC tags in credit cards, right? Yes, some credit cards. So where you tap to pay that's using NFC as well.
Pierre Muller 08:55
Yes, yes, it's the same technology for communications.
Steve Statler 08:59
And can that be read at a distance? So you know, I see people with the RF sleeves, the metallic sleeves, because they don't want someone to scan their credit cards from a distance. Is there anything to that?
Pierre Muller 09:12
Well, there's a lot there I would say in terms of attack and people trying to set up some way some engineering setup to read at a distance and you can find some literature where they succeed. But in fact, it's it's still very, very unlikely to be able to read more than a few tenths of centimeter. But while the payment industry is very focused on that and making sure that there's little you can do with that. So I would say it's it's it's a potential concern as soon as you put data on the air, but you can also protect the data by cryptographic means and whatever. So if you want to use one of those wallets that are protecting I think that's fairly easy. You can also use an aluminium foil and that's all we're saying. So she's doing the same. So it's, it's quite easy. And I would say, I don't think it's the real concern there.
Steve Statler 10:06
So why use NFC on a ski pass, as opposed to say UHF, which is more designed for longer range?
Pierre Muller 10:18
So there is a bit of legacy there in the development of the technology. But there is one key difference between the two technologies that NFC is done, it's been good to simulate an item. So you can manage several items, but at the art, it's a point to point communication system, where you have a reader and one item communicating together. So it's one to one, it's a one to one. In essence, UHF is very different because UHF has been built so that the reader can try to inventory as many tags as possible in in, in a split second. And when it comes to very practical differences in implementation is that it's that with UHF, you would have much more cross reading between the lanes. So if several person are passing through different lanes, then UHF would be you would have a hard time to singulate specific lanes where it will be much more easy with much easier with the NFC.
Steve Statler 11:21
Yeah, I mean, I think often people talk to us Wiliot, got my day job, hop on, hat on, about the sort of the tap Use Case and they say, Oh, you could use Bluetooth your tags for a tap. And I was kind of discouraged them, because I actually think if you want to tap experience, the NFC is really the best approach, the response is going to be very, very fast. Whereas Bluetooth, I mean, it can be pretty quick, but you're never going to get that super responsive tap. Is that a fair?
Pierre Muller 11:59
I think so. Yes. And we even have some use case where we've built some modules with BLE and NFC together where the NFC is used for pairing the BLE with the smartphone or for doing the first connection. So I think the two technology are really complementary and and sometimes it's it's really misuse trying to use one for for doing the job of the others. Some sometimes it's worse, sometimes that's really not the best way to approach a problem.
Steve Statler 12:27
So we've talked about NFC for payments, and we've talked about it for secure authentication. Yes, you've paid the 100 euros for your ski pass or whatever it is. NFC can also be used for non secure auto ID as well candidate like you can have tags on a map and people can tap on a map, is that a different protocol? Or is it the same protocol?
Pierre Muller 12:55
It's, it's basically the same thing. What will be different is the type of tag that is used abusively your credit card is much more secure and robust. And then the tag that you want cheap and easy if you're just interacting with the product or trying to get some information there. But the basic, the basic communication is really the same. I would say that one of the key advantage of the the NFC technology for the tab, and with the tag is that the tag can pass what we call an MDF message, which is basically a message that's given to the smartphone, but the smartphone will not do anything with that you would just pass on to the server. And it's it's a very nice way to use the smartphone as a reader or a gateway without needing any help or anything. And you can you can connect and go directly to the server. So you could put all the all the the all the intelligence of the brain on the server, and you don't need to do that in an app.
Steve Statler 13:58
So that's interesting. Okay, so this is helpful getting a sense of how these technologies relate to each other. And so the stickers, the NFC stickers, they don't have a secure environment on them. They're low cost and they just maybe have a URL encoded or something like that?
Pierre Muller 14:21
I would say it's still on in terms of security, it's depending a lot on where there is a lot of type of security or different aspects. Credit card security is one thing because then there the credential, the card details need to be protected otherwise people could gain access to your bank account. In the case of NFC tag, we'll find security in some of them for authenticating a product for instance. And we have some crypto that is is I would say simpler that what we are doing for banking but it's still very robust. And in very good, then the question when you're discussing about security is, what are you really protecting? What are the assets you're trying to protect, and how much people that would try to attack your, your solution will gain by breaking one tag, for instance. And usually with the NFC, let's say people could gain access to maybe one product, but then they cannot, they don't have access to the second product, they will need to reproduce the attack. So that like the gain compared to today, 40 is small in the banking world, then, of course, if they gain access to some bank accounts, then the potential upside upside is, is quite significant.
Steve Statler 15:46
Okay, so that's helpful. I think I understand more about high frequency than I did before. Where does low frequency fit into this? What are the applications.
Pierre Muller 15:59
Low frequency historically has been, and still very much used for animal identification. And the first deployment we've done well, in 30 years ago was for pigeon racing. Because as soon as you're doing some racing, it seems people are cheating somehow.
Steve Statler 16:17
Even with pigeons.
Pierre Muller 16:20
And so animal ID is the biggest deployment, there is also a lot of access control that are existing, but I would say that's more legacy business that is, is moving slowly to NFC type of business. animal ID is there to stay, and for some simple reason is that the higher the frequency band, the more it tends to be absorbed by the by humidity, and by water, the bodies is a lot of water. So it's very difficult to achieve robust identifications with NFC or UHF, if you get some injectable, type of, of product. And when nowadays, for instance, in Europe, almost all the pets need to have a glass cube with their ID so that the vet can check the ID of the bed.
Steve Statler 17:11
Okay, so if I have my dog chipped, for instance, or my cat, I remember we had a cat that disappeared for a year, someone brought it back. And we'd had a chip put in into it. And so they were able to identify it. So that was probably a low frequency.
Pierre Muller 17:31
Yes. I'm quite sure that was low frequency, and there's a fair chance it was premium.
Steve Statler 17:37
Okay. All right. Well, thank you very much for getting reuniting our cat, it was kind of embarrassing. We got rid of all of the cat, bowl and that sort of thing. And then yogi was back with us for another 10 years. So we had to buy a whole bunch of stuff. But it was worth it. And thank you for making that work. So that's, so let's talk about yam and your your division. Those are quite a few markets. And I assume you're competing with companies like NXP, who also make the chips, where are your strengths? Where do you try and focus?
Pierre Muller 18:18
So yeah, definitely NXP is one of the launch provider in that field. And one that covering the different market segments. As IAM, we are really focusing on innovation trying to be very nimble and join in the different pilots that we're doing being very close to the customer. And we also very, we try to be to drive really innovations there and have differentiation. So I would say for instance, we have a large similar to the new portfolio between NXP and em, but wanted that they are not coming with is the dual frequency combining UHF rain RFID, together with NFC and to enable some, some new use case. So that's that would be one way we are differentiating by providing different products.
Steve Statler 19:07
And why would I want a chip that can do NFC and UHF? What are the applications where that has really struck a chord.
Pierre Muller 19:17
So we discuss a bit about NFC, UHF or rain RFID because both names are used is a lot about supply chain management, logistic management. It's very much used into retail space and growing growing a lot, especially past years with Walmart announcing that they want to deploy it on all their product and and really acting on that. And the technology are very different as we discuss and they have different trends. What we recognize that there is not one technology that is solving every issue and we come up with to the realization that combining them together will provide additional value. So, if you if you think about the supply chain management and retail, so UHF will enable to manage all the logistic to the store the inventory in the store. But after the point of sales, then UHF is no longer used and the customer cannot interact with that. And the the infrastructure for UHF is probably the weakest point, because it's requiring to have specific Reader installed and that quiet to be too expensive and requiring infrastructure. On the opposite. NFC, as we've seen, everybody's having a reader in the pocket with the smartphone and so can easily interact with NFC tag, which is the really the, the big strength of the the NFC and combining them together. Basically, we are enabling to have a unique identifier for product. And people can interact with the product through the NFC interface. But the company can also have all the use the UHF for the logistics, there is only one chip to to maintain one ID to maintain one chip to encode to assemble, manufactured, and it's really going through the wool the wool chain up to the customer and the customer can check the and then you're enabling a lot of new use cases like for instance, brand protection and anti counterfeiting or customer engagement or circularity, basically.
Steve Statler 21:40
So maybe returns as well.
Pierre Muller 21:43
Yes, that's things well, and you when you think about returns, there are there are a number of things that in some case, returned. I would say it, if you if you want to handle return, it's almost as important for the brand to know that the product that they are getting back is authentic. Yeah. And it was for the customer in the first place. Yeah. And we got some customers and yeah, people are, they are, they are buying online, they receive the product, they have seven days to make their mind about the product, they ship the product back. And the product they ship back is fake. So it's a big issue or so for some of the brand.
Steve Statler 22:22
Never even thought about that. So yeah, what a great scam. That's yeah, you buy expensive products, you send cheap counterfeits back and you can then sell the real thing. Exactly. on the black market.
Pierre Muller 22:35
Exactly. So that's that's the kind of brand protection capability that we can have on top of what that's really driving today, the dual frequency product that we're providing, and the capability to interact with the product, you know, it's authentic. And there as I mentioned, there is very good crypto algorithm that that are that will will certify that the tag you have in the product associated to it is is authentic.
Steve Statler 23:04
And I think also the resale market, the circularity use cases I think have a very interesting, I was talking to the folks at Ralph Lauren the other day, and they pointed out that on their app, they are facilitating the resale of their products, which is great for the environment. And I think it helps build the value of their brand. And I think clothing can last a lifetime, fast fashion, I think he's getting a bad name. And also if they're facilitating the resale of their product, then they can actually monetize it so they can get revenue from the first sale and revenue from the second sale as well.
Pierre Muller 23:49
Exactly that really enable new business case. And it's not only it's not only Ralph Lauren, that's also for instance, HCM, if you go to the website, they are very, very strong on circularity, and they want to grow, I think they want to double their revenue. And they know they cannot do that. And they want to have their footprint in term of co2. So they cannot do that at the same time. It's by selling more products. So the whole strategy is about reselling, or selling multiple time by recycling, revalue, getting, yeah, really getting the items for the for the cycle several times.
Steve Statler 24:28
And I guess if you're buying a second hand product, then as a consumer, one of the reasons you wouldn't do that is a trust issue. You know, I'm buying. If I buy from Macy's or from the Ralph Lauren store, I'm pretty sure that this is the genuine article. But if I'm buying it from someone on eBay, or some other channel then then I don't trust it as much and so if I have an FCN accident, think about Ralph Lauren are using NFC. I think they're just using a serialized QR code, which is better than nothing. But it seems like if you're using something that's got encryption, then you can be even more sure that this is the real thing.
Pierre Muller 25:17
Yeah, so I think circularity will be a lot a lot about trust and the trust you can have in the brand and the trust you can have into the product. And if you want the, as you mentioned, secondhand market is very, very important that you, you know what you're buying, and you you know, the product is authentic. So I think we will also see a trend where the tag will be more and more integrated into the product. And a lot of people today are looking into integrating the tag directly into the textile compared to the care label or the end tag that are just removed, what's the point of sales, typically, people will get the care labels, where you lose the traceability for the product. And that's getting more and more problems, especially with European regulation and digital product passport, which is mandating that you can follow the product through the food complete lifecycles enabling the sorting the recycling, or a second life for the product. And so that's big regulation trend. I think that that's also finding roots into the the push for circularity and sustainability.
Steve Statler 26:27
So what is I love this use case? What is the uptake? Like? Where are you seeing volume? Where are you seeing the ramp up of volume? What are the kinds of products where this has been done?
Pierre Muller 26:42
So the driver today is clearly into the high value items, whether you're taking luxury or iron retails or accessories in the retail space? So handbags? And typically, yes, yes. And where you have a lot of counterfeits, the added value of the product is really helping with having a tag, which is more expensive than the QR code. I think a lot of the technology are, unfortunately more expensive than QR code. Yes. And so yeah, luxury, and everything that's also getting into being pretty much counterfeit. So I would say one spirit, as well as purity is another driver where you know, there's a lot of counterfeit into the eye and spirits. And I think the next driver with the will be going on to customer engagement as well and customer interaction.
Steve Statler 27:43
Now that seems to be the area where there's been really poor performance, the customer engagement, but I think the authentication piece could be a great way into that. Because, you know, part of this is training us as the public to use this. And I think in the States, we didn't have tap payments for so long that no one was used to tapping anything. Now we're used to tapping to pay, then I think it's a small step to tap on to products. And I can imagine if I'm paying, you know, $100 or $1,000 for a bottle of spirit, then I might be more motivated to think and engage in a more elaborate scheme to authenticate that this is the real thing. Have you seen any? Do you have any success stories in that because we know we're the act of intelligent packaging industry association. And I was looking at I won't mention whose booth it is, but they had a bottle of wine with a NFC tag in it. And I'm like, no one is going to be tapping this bottle of wine because the NFC tag was under a label and there was no visual indication of where you would tap. So you know, the first problem is okay, I hear I have to tap the bottle of wine. Where on this wine do I tap? And at what point do I get so embarrassed? Because people are looking and nothing's working that I'm never ever going to do that again? And it seems like you need you know, really a branding campaign logos and tap here type thing. I haven't seen that yet.
Pierre Muller 29:21
No, that's definitely true. And that's one of the one of the topics in the NFC forum, especially for the the interactions to have a clear, clear guidelines and I think the brands that are doing it most correctly are really understanding that there is a marketing campaigns to be done and there are some medications in the problem.
Steve Statler 29:42
The people that design the labels don't necessarily want to have a big logo on it with a picture of a phone, you've got this beautiful bottle of champagne, it's all about the method and you know, I don't need to tell you and then you're alive bringing technology into Yeah, like bursting the ball.
Pierre Muller 30:03
No, it don't need to be to be that abuse or that that. But it needs to be subtle. Yeah. For instance, in the spirits were, clearly the biggest trend is to get it into the cap into the water. And this is also preventing from the refill for those periods. So it's also protecting from conserve protection as Yes, yes, that's something that we can easily do either with the NFC or the UHF interface. And we have been very successful with the deployment of the jewel frequency in China, with very high brand spirits that were that were really facing counterfeiting issues there.
Steve Statler 30:45
I've definitely come across that myself where the major cognac brand that was very interested in, in, in massive issue with with counterfeit, and I mean, that's the thing about counterfeit, is you're losing the revenue from the sale, but you're also destroying the brand because the product probably isn't as good.
Pierre Muller 31:11
Counterfeit is destroying the trust that you have into the brain, which is the worst thing that can happen. So why would you pay 200 bucks for a bottle if you don't even drink? The Right? Yeah, right spirit there. So there is.
Steve Statler 31:25
So not only you have a an inferior product, but also you are destroying the exclusivity if you have poor people wearing a Chanel product, then it's like the whole point that presumably people are spending 1000s of dollars is that they can say I'm rich, you're not.
Pierre Muller 31:47
Exactly, yeah. So it, that's, that's a major concern for.
Steve Statler 31:51
Okay, so this is a good marriage between technology and business. Are there any examples that you've described some of the use case, the wine bottle cap, and so forth? Are there any brands that are public that are doing this?
Pierre Muller 32:07
So one that is a lot of the brands are keeping that for themself, I would say at the moment, or don't want to communicate on the technology per se, but one we can mention is moose knuckles with famous Canadian brand doing ironed cloth for winter cloth. And they are using our technology for brand protection and product authentications. Since the since a few years already, and very successful.
Steve Statler 32:36
And it seems like after sales care as well, you know, understanding how to use the product, because I don't think very few people keep the manual even for like a washing machine. So am I going to keep the manual for my goose down insulated jacket? Probably not. But then when it comes to clean it or whatever, then, you know, I'm out of luck.
Pierre Muller 32:59
Yeah. And in fact, it's one of the things that the sky's the limit in terms of what you can do to interact with the product. Because the product itself is the tag itself is just giving you a link between your smartphone and the brand. Web page basically. And they're the story that can be displayed here is really well unique to the brand. But it can also be customized with time. Just to take a few example, if you're a big fan in sports, you can buy one and let's say your your favorites. Your favorite teams invest in that you can tap it, make sure it's it's authentic, the product is authentic, but then you could tap it again and got the next the next game, when is the next game what was the last score, whatever because you can be redirected live to the website and and get this, this kind of interaction or, and so it's really enabling a lot of digital use case we we hear a lot about digitalization more going big and digitalization but it's also about interacting with their product and connecting with that can take some other example of new use cases that are enabled. Like if you're we talked a bit about sports and I'm running a lot and things is okay, I want to buy the next my new pair of shoes because they just wear off and if I'm going to foot lockers or one of the distributor there, well, maybe I was having a pair of Nike and they will advise me to go for it there. So for ASICs or so basically the retailer where you're going is owning the relationship to the to the customer. But if basically, usually I don't want even to go to the shop, I would like you know just the same one as it was good. I just want the same one. I just want reorder. And sometimes the same is not existing any longer because they change the brand. But if I can tap juice to reorder, then I'm going to the website of the brand. And based on my previous purchase, they can told me Oh, this one is no longer existing, but you should consider this model because that will be the perfect fit for you. So the brand is, is owning the relationship to the end user and not leaving it to the distributor or the retailer.
Steve Statler 35:28
Yeah, so retention, loyalty, follow on sales. That's true. I have some beloved vans shoes, like you're wearing out, and they don't have any more of this kind, what can I buy next? So if I knew that I could just tap and then I wouldn't even have to go into the store, which I don't really enjoy doing. Probably I'm not gonna get particularly good advice from the teenager that's working there. If I could get a really good digital experience, I think I would. What are you seeing in terms of the software behind that? Because it's all very well, you know, you've provided this amazing data carrier, the chip and the interface. But then I think about well, what is I want a great software experience that's going to be maintained for years to come. So it seems like there needs to be a discipline of digital product management, inside the retailer. And presumably, they need the software tools to manage all of this.
Pierre Muller 36:30
Yeah, so I think software is coming in different. Different aspects. I think the retailer a lot focusing on the software, they need to manage their shops on the one side or the infrastructure and so on, which is very important when it comes to inventory management. And, and that's also a huge differentiator for for the sales. But it's also come with, there is also the part of the user experience. And this one, I will tend to say it's it's probably a lot easier because the target serves an NFC tag is giving you just a link to a website, which arguably any teenager know to do right now, you have a bit more complexity, maybe if you go to Security, because you want to do a bit of crypto, but that's really not something very, very difficult in terms of software development. So I would say what what the brand really need now is the marketing people to understand the value of the technology and leverage it in the past, it used to be the infrastructure people, the ICT, the IT guys, the manufacturing guys that are that were pushing the solution as a way to optimize the costs and to reduce the costs. But no, with this kind of solutions, it's all has to come also from the customer engagement from the marketing department. And people that are usually maybe a bit farther away from the technology. And this is where we have to bridge the gap, I would say and that get people understand the capability and then build on it and develop it. But I've seen video a number of solutions out there that working great and I would say that the software part is is not the big issue for these kinds of deployments, arguably getting the right tag getting it nicely integrated into your product and people understanding how to use it or to interact with the products is in my opinion, the the highest order that we have to face.
Steve Statler 38:33
But do you have relationships with the serialization software platform vendors that Kessler's the Avery Dennison IO, I think identity of now I have Bitly? And then of course, Digimarc has everything? Do you work with those?
Pierre Muller 38:51
Definitely, I think we work with many, if not almost all of them. And the the tag itself is is very agnostic to that it's need to be built on standard and on standard identification code. And then the company you just you just name or really very good partner to do any deployment. But there are some others I think it's really about probably depending on the segment, I would say each of them is having some specialty and will be really maybe the better partner but I would not be able to give you the preferred partner it will depend on your product and our segment and that if you contact us we are happy to have the discussion.
Steve Statler 39:38
That's very good. Um, another area I wanted to pick your brain so your seems like an active member of the RAIN alliance is that true?
Pierre Muller 39:46
I'm part of the board of the RAIN alliance, so.
Steve Statler 39:51
Okay, I'd love to hear what's what's happening with that group. What are the priorities for RAIN these days?
Pierre Muller 39:57
I would say one of the priority of RAIN is really entering the growth that there, there is at the moment in the RAIN markets, there is really an exponential growth RAIN RFID has been a very interesting technology, but almost, I would say, four years, but now it's really taking off in huge volume. There has been 34 billion tag sales last year, and did use a small part of the potential market. And this is coming with deployment at Walmart that has been is very pushing a lot of tag in the market but also ups for the logistic and some some of their counterparts.
Steve Statler 40:43
So what is UPS using rain RFID for for?
Pierre Muller 40:49
Packet tracking so to monetize all the packet medium size packet tracking in the in the US and converting a lot of their supply chain. So there we are really in the art of war train, our fight is doing best, which is inventory was Supply Chain Management and and very quick, very fast inventory management.
Steve Statler 41:10
Very good. So rain is presiding over some success. What are the so everything's going greats presumably got nothing to do? Or is there something to do?
Pierre Muller 41:23
There is there's a lot to do, there is a lot to do. The key objective for the rain audience is to lower the barrier to adoptions and to make the technology easier to adapt and to deploy. I think the infrastructure is still one of the one of the barrier there. And we're trying to make that easier for for everybody. Older, other concerns the sustainability and the Oh, rain RFID can really help with sustainability and reduce the footprint but also, as a technology, we want to avoid to contribute to any, any waste any kind of way. So that some of the big concern that we have at the moment.
Steve Statler 42:14
Yeah, I was talking to the Avery Dennison folks at the show and they were educating me on how the work they're doing for to enable the separation of the tag from the material, you have different kinds of packaging and different kinds of tags. And they want to essentially use the right adhesive so that the tag can be separated and the P T bottle can go back and is pure, and can be turned into another PT bottle. And then the you know the label can be turned into a park bench or something like that. So I get that on the on the cost of the infrastructure. Obviously, as Wiliot we make a big deal over over that is where we have friendly competition with with RFID. Although I think RFID is UHF RFID is has done a lot to grow the market. And I think there's some matter of having the right tool for the right job. But why is it that the infrastructure is is so expensive for RFID. And I know you can get low cost RFID readers but it still seems like a handheld scanner is $1,000 and a tunnel is is you know, whatever, add another digit on to it. And yet, you know, the radios are just radios. So is it a business model issue? Is it a technology issue? Or?
Pierre Muller 43:50
No, I don't think it's business model issue. I think there are some limitation in the technology and and what can be done there. I think also from the reader perspective. I mean, it's a huge market for the tag and And arguably, it's not that huge market for the reader side of it. And if you think about the smartphone, the one thing that's driving down the volumes for the smartphone is the volumes, yes.
Steve Statler 44:18
And priced smartphones, because they sell a billion every year.
Pierre Muller 44:22
And the semiconductor industry is really it's really a volume industry. In essence, as you know, the the first product is costing you millions if not 10s of millions to develop. Yeah, and the second one is costing you a few cents or a few bucks. Yeah, so it's really I think part of the part of the problem is maybe coming from there.
Steve Statler 44:46
Do you make chips that go in readers are you just make the chips that go into the tag?
Pierre Muller 44:50
We have some reader chip on the low frequency and NFC segments. We're not specializing into the chip reader. Some company are doing that. And I mean, it's a matter of focus at 200 points, we're already doing a lot of the tags. And it's also requiring a lot of software support and maintenance that we don't really want to be involved with.
Steve Statler 45:12
That makes sense. And what about the Bluetooth market? Do you play in that?
Pierre Muller 45:17
We definitely have some BLE solutions that we, we really, really think it's one of the lower costs and lower footprint work consumptions lower power consumptions in the world. And yeah, we have great deployments on the on the Bluetooth.
Steve Statler 45:36
So you have a hybrid, NFC and UHF tag, have you ever thought about doing a hybrid Bluetooth and RFID? RAIN? RFID?
Pierre Muller 45:49
Yeah, we were thinking a lot about that. We didn't come yet with with specific business case for that. But as mentioned, we got into past some use case for for BLE together with UHF RFID. And we combined some modules to do that with some kind of applications where you don't want to be early to be active before. Before the product is going to the market soldier shelf life, you want to you want to save your battery. So the use case was really about using RFID to activate the BLE, after the point of sale when you really need to be.
Steve Statler 46:33
Oh, that's interesting. I was what I was thinking about was sort of similar. You could have user engagement with BLE, and you could have the inventory with the UHF as well. That would be another use case.
Pierre Muller 46:48
Yes, that I think the use cases are really interesting. And they are definitely existing. Now the question is, how long it will take for the market to recognize that and to to come into it.
Steve Statler 47:01
Okay, well, maybe we should talk about this more with the cameras off the microphones off. But, Pierre, this has been a really interesting conversation. Thanks. I really appreciate it.
Pierre Muller 47:12
Same thing for me. We appreciate that, Steve.
Steve Statler 47:15
So I was intrigued with your career. How long have you been working in this industry?
Pierre Muller 47:25
Depends on which industry you're in, meaning we started St. Micro. I started with St. Micro in 2000. So I'm now working in semiconductors in 20 for years, and I started really as a designer for serial platform and Bluetooth type of application. So from that perspective, I'm really interested in the word solutions. Yeah. And then I moved to security and payments type of applications. And I joined into em microelectronic and RFID back in 2017. So 17, six years back, where I drive the technical developments within microelectronic. And since a bit more than two years, no, I'm responsible for the full RFID business unit.
Steve Statler 48:16
Okay, and what's the scope of your responsibilities? What is the business unit?
Pierre Muller 48:21
So the business unit is responsible for everything related to RFID. So we are doing IC design, low frequency type of products, also NFC and UHF type of product. And we have this unique value proposition with the dual frequency product.
Steve Statler 48:35
Cool. So the key questions, the most difficult questions of the interview are the three songs that like, supposedly, your favorite songs, I think, favorite songs change from one minute to another, but what are the three songs that you chose?
Pierre Muller 48:51
So it took me it took me some time to figure out because I'm not like a super fan of one particular band. I'm not musicians, but the first one would be Magda Knife from Louis Armstrong. Oh, and the key reason there is really I was dancing a lot. That's the way I met my wife basically. And the way I'm listening I'm listening to music a lot of time all the time but the way I'm listening to music is more to get into a specific mood or to get out I think the one thing I like is that in a few seconds music get you into a specific state of mind and yes state of being and yeah, Magda Knife is for me. One of the best memory of my life when I met my wife, basically and and we share a lot on this song.
Steve Statler 49:39
Where did you meet her?
Pierre Muller 49:40
Dancing in some some party and just dance dancing on this rocking and swinging.
Steve Statler 49:48
All right, the old fashioned way. It seems like now everyone meets online. There's an algorithm but the algorithm was basically the music that you liked you
Pierre Muller 49:59
Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Steve Statler 50:01
Excellent. Okay, well, that's a good one. So what's number two?
Pierre Muller 50:05
Number two. And again, that's really getting in the right mood and setup. And that would be, Is This Love by Bob Marley? I like to I like to start the day with reggae music or really like good spirit music that just get me on and get started. So and from thinking about reggae music, then it needs Bob.
Steve Statler 50:25
Very good. So you like one of these people? If you're going to an important meeting, you'll play music to kind of psych yourself up to write state?
Pierre Muller 50:35
I would. I'm not doing too much for meeting but yes, I would, I would use music to get me in the right state of mind and to, to prep myself, I think that's really speed is speed things up. Right? So the body's answering instantly to music.
Steve Statler 50:50
That's very true. Okay, and what's number three?
Pierre Muller 50:54
and number three will be In the End from Linkin Park. And that's one one music that will get me prepared prepared for sports basically, I running a lot doing lots of sports and that's kind of getting Yeah, all set up for for doing any exercise or just getting get me fields basically.
Steve Statler 51:16
Yes, sport and music. closely linked, I had a friend Adam Riggs Zeigen, who had a whole startup about music for sports. And he would actually, he has a device that would measure your heartbeat and and regulate the music according to your heart.
Pierre Muller 51:36
That's one of the things I like about music or even DJ for party when they can get you at certain urbit. And then then they can move you around and basically play with your engagement. That's that's really impressive the way it goes, music and body together.
Steve Statler 51:51
And some of the one of the best evenings I've had has been DJing. at my son's school when he was little, you know, these are like 1011 12 year olds, but also that the parents, and I volunteered to be the DJ. And I used to be a DJ with the old fashioned turntables. But this was with on the iPad with the doing the same thing. One of the best evenings in my life was seeing all these people dancing and feeling like you'd had some influence on Yeah, it's very cool. Well, wonderful. Those are great choices. Thank you very much. Appreciate your coming on the show.
Pierre Muller 52:31
Very glad to be here.
Steve Statler 52:35
Thank you for listening to my interview with Pierre. It means a lot that you stick to the end. As I travel around and go to these conferences, I bumped into people who subscribed to the show. And whenever I hear that it's been helpful. That means a lot. We can make this show even more helpful if we get your feedback, good bad suggestions, whatever. Please put your comments, reviews onto the platforms where you consume this or send your feedback directly to me at MisterBeacon.com. So until next time, be safe. And many thanks to Brooke and Aaron for promoting and editing this episode and many thanks to you.