TI Keeps Eye on RFID Prize

Texas Instruments sells its Sensors & Actuators unit, but keeps its RFID business, for which it has high hopes.

With the bulk of her career at Texas Instruments Inc. spent in the semiconductor business, Julie England has her work cut out for her. A vice president at the company and the general manager of TIs RFID business, England is charged with running that division under a new umbrella.

TI announced Monday that Bain Capital LLC will acquire its $1.1 billion Sensors & Actuators business for $3 billion—that is, most of that business division. The company will keep RFID (radio-frequency identification), formerly under the auspices of Sensors & Actuators, in-house. It will realign the RFID business under its $10.9 billion Semiconductor unit.

England is in her element.

"I joined RFID a year and a half ago, and Ive been on a mission to leverage as much of semiconductor as possible, to make this business successful going forward," said England, in Dallas. "I believe the customer focus model for semiconductor is a good fit."

England stressed that TIs RFID customers should expect no disruption to the business, given its "less of a change than most would expect." There will be no reporting changes—outside of England, who will report to a new vice president. The manufacturing lines will remain intact, as will the current RFID team, which has a lot in common with its new parent.

/zimages/6/28571.gifRFID fears create their own market. Click here to read more.

"Ive built up a team of a lot of semiconductor [people]," said England.

Back in the semiconductor business, England will focus on several new initiatives—ones that she believes will help transform the state of RFID in two key, emerging verticals: the retail supply chain and contactless commerce, otherwise known as credit cards (along with their offspring, debit cards) and electronic passports. The road map includes adopting a very-low-power microcontroller in concert with the semiconductor division and merging those devices with different sensing devices, "so we can tell you not only that you have an asset, but youll be able to know more about that asset," like the temperature of temperature-controlled items, said England.

The idea behind the low-power microcontroller is that passive RFID tags require memory to maintain information stored in the tag when its power is turned off—sort of like a computer remembers its operating system after a user shuts down. The less energy a device uses, the higher the performance thats enabled; if TI can get higher power, the company can put more memory on its chips, according to England.

While the TIs RFID division focuses on five verticals—automotive, livestock tagging, contactless commerce, retail supply chain and general asset tagging—England said it is investing heavily in ISO and EPC, the international RFID standards body and the retail standards body, respectively.

"We believe retail supply chain is the next [big] thing, but its slowly getting started, and it very much has a mandate feel," said England.

At the same time, the company is keeping its eye on the electronic passport sector. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently mandated that all U.S. passports have RFID chips by October. While TI hasnt bid on any opportunities yet, "we have people on the ground in Washington," said England. "Theres a lot of opportunity to keep building on this."

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