WASHINGTON Eyeing the potentially huge global demand for contactless chips, Texas Instruments said Thursday (Sept. 27) it will enter the secure government ID market with products built around ferroelectric memory and microcontroller technologies.
Dallas-based TI said it is targeting next-generation government ID programs like electronic passports, claiming its FRAM technology will enable much faster read and write times and increased memory capacity. The chip maker said its approach could speed the process of creating and processing IDs containing personal information. The types of personal data that could be stored on e-passports and other secure IDs could also be expanded to include biometric and other data.
"For this particular application, [FRAM} is an extremely good fit," said V.C. Kumar, manager of TI's government identification unit. Kumar claimed FRAM's dense memory combined with its small cell size could help fill the gap between secure ID market requirements and existing storage technologies like EEprom and flash. The technology "gap is increasing over time," he added.
Among other contactless applications the FRAM could usher in are electronic stamps in passports and "write-on-the-fly" mobile applications, Kumar said.
Texas Instruments' embedded FRAM technology is based on joint development with partner Ramtron International Corp. (Colorado Springs, Colo.), which licensed its nonvolatile FRAM technology to Texas Instruments in 2001. In March, the partners announced an agreement under which TI would manufacturer Ramtron's FRAM devices using its 130-nm process technology.
With new e-passport and national ID programs planned in over 50 countries in Europe and Asia along with a U.S. initiative, market researcher ABI Research estimates the transponder segment of the security chip market could reach $970 million by 2012. The overall security market that includes transponders, card readers, software and services could hit $1.5 billion over the same period, it said.
ABI's Jonathan Collins said growing volumes in the security chip market likely prompted TI to jump into a market that already includes rival chip makers like NXP and Infineon. Collins added that TI's emphasis on speed and storage capacity are among the "high notes" in terms of what the market needs.
Backlogs in issuing new U.S. passports have been growing, and experts say new security requirements threaten to slow even more the process of adding personal data to ID chips. "How do we, without compromising security, speed things up?" is the key issue for border security officials, Kumar said.