Klaus Finkenzeller

THE Reference Book on RFID TECHNOLOGY!

800 Pages of Specialized Literature – Klaus Finkenzeller and 25 Years of the RFID Handbook

Klaus Finkenzeller & The RFID Handbook

When Klaus Finkenzeller, a graduate in electrical/communications engineering, published the first edition of the RFID Handbook in 1998, he opened a door to a niche technology. At the time, he was working at G+D (Giesecke & Devrient) as a specialist and developer of smart card technologies.

Today – 25 years later – he looks back on past eras of RFID technology in an interview and also ventures a look at the future of wireless IoT. Klaus Finkenzeller has been working for the Bavarian company Elatec, based in Puchheim near Munich, as an Innovation Manager since 2019.

Interview powered by: the Think WIOT Group and Elatec

The first edition of the RFID Handbook was published in 1998. However, RFID technology was not even listed in the Gartner Hype Cycles in 1998. What assessments of RFID technology do you remember when you look back 25 years?

"At the time, RFID technology was already being used for animal identification, simple access systems, ski tickets, container and tool identification and electronic immobilizers in cars. Nevertheless, unlike the contact-based chip card, RFID technology was not considered a hype topic. From 1994, two technologies were available, Mifare and Legic, which made it possible to encrypt data transmission between the reader and transponder. This was seen as a prerequisite for implementing RFID applications with sensitive and valuable data, such as eTickets.

In 1996, I took part in a plenary meeting of the ISO/IEC committee SC17, which was held in Seoul to mark the introduction of contactless ticketing in public transportation. At that time, we worked intensively on the development of the two standards ISO/IEC 14443 and 15693 relating to the form and functionality of contactless smart cards and data transmission between card and reader. Among other ideas, contactless chip cards should also be able to be used as a replacement for paper tickets in public transport. Promising field trials of contactless local transport tickets were also carried out in Germany in the 1990s."

Klaus Finkenzeller and 25 Years of the RFID Handbook

The RFID Handbook has been translated into six languages and is considered the most significant fundamental reference work.

I am naturally delighted and honored by this, especially because in the 1990s no one could have foreseen the future spread and significance of RFID to this extent. In fact, RFID was still a niche technology back in 1998. There were hardly any standards, but there were many proprietary systems from different manufacturers. The hype surrounding RFID only began in the years after 2002.

In 1994, parallel to the development of contactless cards at G+D, I began actively participating in two standardization committees at the German Institute for Standardization (DIN). Both were involved with contactless data carriers for short range communication in the frequency ranges 13.56 MHz and 125 kHz.

The NIA17.k group worked on contactless smart cards and started developing the ISO/IEC 14443 and ISO/IEC 15693 standards, while NIA31.4 was strongly focused on tags for logistics applications at 125 kHz. Thanks to my early involvement in standardization committees and the associated contacts with specialists, I had easier access to specialized articles and technical documentation. The Internet was not yet available for research.

At that time, I started to structure the knowledge I had gathered, to prepare it systematically and to describe the physical relationships. Originally, I hadn't planned to write a book. It was only when the documentation became increasingly comprehensive that I decided to bundle the knowledge in a book to make it accessible to others.

Yes, I sent the publisher a concept when I started working on the book and they agreed immediately. All editions have been published by Hanser Verlag, who have always given me excellent support with their editing and layout.

I worked on the first edition for a whole year. I first had to fundamentally determine the logical and didactic structure of the book. In what depth do I explain the physical principles in order to convey the basics to newcomers of this technology? I put a lot of effort into this in the first edition.

The same amount of time has actually gone into the book for each subsequent edition, albeit for different reasons. The chapter on cryptography, for example, has become quite complex. I completely revised the NFC chapter for the eighth edition. As a result, the book has grown from around 300 pages in 1998 to 800 pages in 2024.

I am the sole author of the first five issues. For the sixth issue, I brought co-authors on board for the first time. RFID technology was now such a broad field that it was simply no longer possible for one person to cover all the topics in the necessary technical depth. Michael Gebhart, Florian Peters, Josef Preishuber-Pflügl, Peter Raggam, Erich Reisenhofer and Michael E. Wernle contributed to the current eighth edition.

Ticketing and Payment Process

Chip cards have opened up countless possibilities for RFID applications since the early 1990s. However, applications with contactless microprocessors were still considered unrealistic.

Already Four Million Contactless Bus Tickets in 1990!

The first contact took place in 1992 during a visit to the Salzburg-based company Skidata. At the time, the company was working on a watch with an integrated RFID tag. The watch was intended to replace the manual ski ticket. From 1994, I worked at G+D on the development of contactless chip cards in the 13.56 MHz frequency range.

At that time, Mifare technology was about to be launched on the market. The highlight of our development was a contactless chip card for Lufthansa, which already had a Mifare RFID chip, a magnetic stripe, as well as an embossed design more than 25 years ago.

Neither. In 1994, the technology was also still new to me. I therefore studied the technology intensively and wanted to understand the physical relationships. Our goal at G+D was the series production of contactless chip cards.

To this end, we were already testing printed silver conductive pastes back then. In terms of mentality, we were still very much in the world of chip cards at the time. It is important to note that in 1979, G+D developed the world's first chip card in the laboratory with the dimensions of the ID-1 credit card format in accordance with ISO/IEC 7810, which later became ISO/IEC 7816-2.

In the early 1990s, we still considered the possibility of using smart card chips with processors to be unrealistic for ISO/IEC 14443. At that time, the idea of contactless microprocessors was not considered feasible due to their energy requirements.

For this reason, a separate standard ISO/IEC 10536 (Close Coupling Smartcards) was occasionally developed, which was intended to provide the necessary energy with a contactless plug-in reader. Within a few years, however, the further development of semiconductor technology had progressed so rapidly that the first dual-interface smart cards were launched on the market at the turn of the millennium.

RFID in Public Transportation

RFID in Public Transportation

Contactless chip cards were already seen in the early 1990s as a way to improve the poor financial situation of public transport companies with electronic fares. In Germany, transport companies in Lüneburg and Oldenburg began operating a chip card system in 1990 and 1991, which collects all travel data and calculates the cheapest ticket for the routes traveled retrospectively.

Since 1996, Seoul in Korea has had a system in which the fare is deducted at the start of the journey. At the time, it was the world's largest contactless ticketing system, with around four million contactless bus tickets, 3,500 charging stations and over 4,000 equipped buses.

Milestones for RFID Technology

The US American Dr. Mario Cardullo received the first RFID patent in 1973 for vehicle registration to collect tolls. Further milestones followed in the 1990s.

The first contactless chip cards with cryptography (Mifare, Legic) are produced.
The first edition of the RFID handbook is published.
The first dual interface microprocessor cards that can be read both via contacts and without contact are launched on the market.
ETSI extends the frequency band for UHF in Europe and increases the transmission power to 4 watts. For the first time in Europe, this enables read ranges for UHF RFID that correspond to those in North America.
Near Field Communication (NFC) is introduced for the first time.
The electronic passport (ePassport) is introduced in Germany.
In standardization, projects for cryptographic suites (ISO/IEC 2967) are beginning to enable secure communication for UHF transponders.

We started working on ISO/IEC 14443 and 15693 in 1994. MIT and EPC were also at the very beginning of their activities in the 1990s. In addition, EPC's work at that time mainly concerned UHF tags for logistics and retail, as well as the infrastructure and coding required for the supply chain. Today, however, this is just one of many areas in which RFID is used.

Around 1998, for example, there were already the ISO/IEC 11784 and 11785 for animal identification and ISO/IEC 10374 for the identification of containers. The development of ISO/IEC 14443 was already well advanced at the end of the 1990s, although the first four parts were not published until 2001. However, ISO/IEC 14443 in particular laid the decisive foundation for contactless credit cards, electronic passports, employee ID cards, access cards and, from the early 2000s, the foundation for NFC.

The first RFID components were based on simple hard-coded chips, so-called state machines, which may have had a writable memory or, like Legic and Mifare later on, a crypto engine. However, Intel's processor development had little or no impact on this. The development of semiconductor technology, on the other hand, played a significant role.

The constant reduction in the size of structures, and thus the energy consumption of semiconductors, made it possible for the first time in 1999 to provide security processors in chip cards with a contactless interface. From this point onwards, highly secure operating systems (SCOS) for chip cards could also be used contactlessly. This laid the foundation for bank-based payment transactions and 25 Years RFID Technology ID documents.

In the mid-2000s, the majority of the population had not yet heard of how RFID worked and of its physical limitations. It was thought that RFID tags could be read over distances of several kilometers using special readers. This of course explains the fears among the population. Education was necessary and I hope that I was able to contribute to this with the RFID Handbook.

In my opinion, consumers have perceived and accepted contactless payment at the checkout with a chip card or mobile phone as a convenience. However, consumers still do not knowingly come into contact with many other contactless applications. They do not recognize the technological connection to RFID technology. This applies, for example, to animal identification, immobilizers and the inconspicuous UHF labels on flight baggage or items of clothing.

The “Verein zur Förderung des öffentlichen bewegten und unbewegten Datenverkehrs e.V.” (Foe BuD) campaigned against the introduction of RFID technology in the retail sector from 2005 to 2010. The biometric passport was also criticized, as the following quote taken from a response by the German government on December 9th, 2005 shows:

"According to media reports and data protection experts, the new passports with biometric data introduced on November 1st, 2005 are not sufficiently secure.

Members of the Chaos Computer Club stated in the 'Monitor' program of November 3rd, 2005 that they would need 'weeks at best' to crack the security codes. A professor who teaches at the Institute for Semiconductor Technology at the University of Aachen explained in this program that the RFID chips used had a built-in weakness and that it was impossible to achieve the target durability of 10 years."

Future Trends

Future RFID Trends

NFC applications will reach their full potential in the coming years.

The optimization of the air interface in accordance with ISO/IEC 18000-63 with the aim of transmitting higher data rates and central data storage are forward-looking topics that are currently being worked on. This involves the specification of the EPC Gen 2v3. Another important topic is cryptography for UHF. This includes commands that are optimized precisely for the application requirements and extended filter options for anti-collision procedures. I see great potential here, which in my opinion, is not yet recognized. Applications include toll systems and parking management.

Another important topic is the networking of readers with the cloud. Although NFC technology already enables this connectivity by making it possible to connect NFC smartphones to the cloud, I think this is still underused. However, there are also tags with sensors or an analog output, especially for NFC, which would make it easier to configure and control devices by touch. Devices that only need to be set sporadically could be configured on the smartphone if required and programmed via NFC touch.

The limits are to be found in physics and also in the regulatory requirements. The achievable ranges of passive transponders in the LF and HF range have been exhausted. The range cannot be improved indefinitely even in the UHF range, as the backscatter signal becomes weaker and weaker with increasing distance, and the effort required in the receivers eventually reaches its limits. In any case, the transmission power is capped by regulation.

With sensor tags, the separation between object identification and object status description is no longer necessary. Both can take place simultaneously, to the benefit of the user. This is why I think that sensors are only at the beginning in terms of their importance and application.

NFC plays a very important role, as very high security levels are maintained and data exchange can be initiated with a clear, simple user interaction. BLE is more cumbersome, as the connection must first be established via the operating system. These problems do not exist with NFC.

NFC also offers various security concepts, such as Host-based Card Emulation (HCE) and the integration of secure elements on micro SD or in the SIM card, which enable highly secure applications. The requirements are crucial for payment processes, for example. App developers are supported by a well-defined API, and the mobile phone also comes with a cloud connection and a user interface.

These are the best prerequisites for a wide range of applications, especially as the NFC Data Exchange Format (NDEF) can be expanded at any time. It is possible, for example, to use an NFC tag to launch a specific app on a mobile phone or to configure devices via a digital or analog interface in the NFC tag.

Firstly, of course, in the use of NFC, and more generally in improving the cloud connectivity of readers. One idea that I was already interested in 15 years ago is mobile phone-based communication with UHF tags. Mobile phones transmit in adjacent frequency ranges to the 868 and 915 MHz RFID systems and generate enough power to supply a UHF tag with energy at some distance.

Naturally, the hardware in the mobile phones would have to be expanded to include a receive channel for the backscatter responses of UHF tags. Unfortunately, this has never been commercially implemented to date, although it could be a fantastic addition to short-range NFC.

I can't see this point at the moment. Passive RFID and NFC have the great advantage of being battery-free. Even if the technology behind the physical interface were to change completely, for example through the introduction of polymer electronics or other disruptive technologies as an alternative to semiconductors, this would not change the RFID transmission method.

The NFC barcode developed by Kovio for transponders based on polymer semiconductors is already available today. This method, which is also supported by the Andro API for NFC, uses simplified coding in accordance with ISO/IEC 14443 to transmit a fixed data set.

The current image of RFID may be changing radically, but the concept of using the energy of the reader to transmit data in both directions and, in the case of passive transponders, also to operate the chip, is simply impressive. Why should this be abandoned so quickly?

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