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In The Boardroom With...

Mr. Thomas Hitzer
Head of Product House

Maximizing the Full Potential of RFID

Success is a matter of offering the right products at the right time and at the right prices. That describes the scope of duties of SMARTRAC’s Product House in Dresden, Germany, which has been headed by Thomas Hitzer since October 2013. Having started his career in the RFID industry in 1989, and having joined SMARTRAC with the acquisition of KSW microtec in 2011, Thomas Hitzer has unique industry expertise. Thank you for joining us today, Thomas. It’s a pleasure to speak with you regarding SMARTRAC’s RFID solutions. What makes SMARTRAC a global pacesetter in the RFID market?

Thomas Hitzer: It’s safe to say that SMARTRAC has the broadest product portfolio in the RFID industry. Encompassing basic UHF tags for retail use, contactless card products for transportation, banking and access, animal and automotive transponders and complex, high-security products for eGovernment purposes, SMARTRAC can satisfy any demand.

SMARTRAC excels in technological versatility, enabling tailored solutions such as dual-interface cards. No matter what frequency range they prefer, customers can choose between different antennas and manufacturing technologies. Furthermore, our production resources ensure security of supply for quantities of up to billions of pieces per year.

Some other important points are the pre- and post-sales services we offer, and, of course, our time-to-market advantage. Our sample shops are usually able to provide prototypes of new products in less than three weeks. The last thing I’d like to mention is intellectual property: we continuously expand our patent portfolio, which is crucial to stay ahead of our competition. Looking back at 25 years in the RFID industry, what is your view on the development of the global RFID market?

Thomas Hitzer: RFID is gaining acceptance, as it is becoming part of almost everybody’s daily life. There have been several breakthrough applications, each causing a leap forward for the industry. Examples are animal identification, access control, car immobilizers, RFID-based ID cards and passports – and also single-item tracking solutions for retailers. After a rather slow start, NFC technology is currently conquering several markets, and is at last being used for contactless payment.

That progress has been driven by an increasing demand for security, efficiency and convenience, and globally, there is little difference. Generally in Europe and Northern America, the focus lies on security of supply and technological complexity, whereas in Asia, price is the number one consideration. Reliability and high quality are taken for granted around the globe. What will drive RFID growth for the next few years?

Thomas Hitzer: We are developing towards becoming an information society. The demand for security, efficiency and convenience calls for access to a rapidly increasing amount of information. The transponder acts as a link between a product, a process and related information. That is why everybody wants that link to offer a very good price-performance ratio, outstanding quality and excellent reliability.  Also, there is a need to offer customers additional services that leverage the transponder’s abilities. This is a factor that will drive RFID growth for next few years.

The most important driver for many years to come will be the evolution of what we call the Internet of Everything. Building that “Smart Cosmos” is a central theme for SMARTRAC – but explaining that would go far beyond the scope of this interview.  Congratulations on the recent announcement that SMARTRAC is confirmed as market leader in government ID business according to ABI Research.  What is your perspective regarding the unique and compelling SMARTAC value proposition which has enabled your brand to achieve the  #1 ranking – certainly, the strength of the SMARTRAC patent portfolio, SMARTRAC technology, SMARTRAC comprehensive product range and trust in the SMARTRAC brand are all part of it. Would you agree?

Thomas Hitzer: First of all, it is our customer base that made us the market leader in the Government ID inlay business, and we are very aware and proud of that! That success is an obligation to us, and we will be continuing our efforts to satisfy our customers with outstanding products and services.  Consequently we’ll continue to further invest in R&D providing the basis for the next generation of inlay technology for governmental applications.

Market trends definitely go in the direction of thinner inlays for eID cards and passport data pages, very high bit rates for the ISO14443 contactless interface or usage of Flash based microcontrollers, only to mention a few. These are landmarks in the future portfolio of ID components we are going to extend our technology leadership on.  The track record of SMARTRAC in the eID space, with involvement in more than 70 e-Passport projects on a global basis, is truly impressive. What do you recommend those governments that want to issue eID but still hesitate?

Thomas Hitzer: In eGovernment as well as in eBusiness, everybody is looking for the one “killer application” that immediately pays off any investment made into an eID system. However, that application is very hard to find, especially in complex ecosystems with various market stakeholders. From our point of view, the travel functionality according to ICAO’s eMRTD (electronic Machine Readable Travel Documents) should be adapted in every eID scheme. Thus, citizens can use their eID cards and ePassports for travelling to countries maintaining recognition agreements on a bilateral basis. This is quite usual in Europe, enabling easier, faster and more convenient cross border transactions without using traditional passports any more.

These eID schemes utilize UHF contactless technology rather than HF due to its reading distance advantage that facilitates unobstructed cross border processes. Modern chip operating systems also provide contactless applications for secure authentication and digital signature. Based on this generic card services, there is an unlimited use case portfolio possible, which can grow after issuance of the card in the field. Examples are online registrations at the municipality, applying for a vehicle registration or home banking. In a nutshell, start small and Think Big is the way to go here, and SMARTRAC is providing the necessary future proof technology platforms! What are the main challenges in 2015 and the years ahead?

Thomas Hitzer: There will definitely be no shortage of challenges. The first is the increasing pressure on price: we will need new, innovative product proposals to answer the challenges of the highly competitive single-item tracking market in the retail business.

The second challenge is related to design: ID card and passport manufacturers want thinner eID inlays, which allow them to add more security layers to their products. The third is to develop cost-effective and functionally superior products for wide adoption in hotel access, and the event and entertainment businesses.

In addition, we will have to enhance our NFC product portfolio, create practical applications for the Internet of Everything, and continue not only to drive innovation, but also to transform it into commercial success. SMARTRAC will be participating in CARTES (4-6 November 2014 • Paris, France) – what can customers and visitors expect to see in this years’ tradeshow and at your stand?

Thomas Hitzer: CARTES is the global event for the digital security industry dedicated to solutions for payment, identification and mobility. At the SMARTRAC booth #4M061, we are going to show the most innovative and reliable RFID products and services for a broad variety of needs and applications. From fast initialized e-passports, e-birth certificates, tailored dual interface cards, enhanced consumer experience with NFC, new industry tags, up to integrated cloud-based services: SMARTRAC certainly has a lot of content to share. Thank you for your joining us today Thomas.

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