Inside Contactless was formed in 1995 by six engineers originating from Gemplus to develop contactless chips for the smart card and RFID markets. The company’s mission is “to establish its leading edge products as the first choice for companies seeking contactless solutions.” The company recently raised EUR 10 million ($9.5 million) in financing from new investors Siparex Ventures (EUR 2.6 million, lead-investor), Vertex Funds (EUR 2 million), and NIF Ventures (EUR 2 million), with participation from existing investors GIMV and Alta Berkeley.
The company saw 172% revenue growth in 2001 to EUR 7.5 million, based on sales of ten million contactless chips. According to the company, this gives Inside an estimated 10-15% overall share of the 13.56 MHz contactless market, with the company aiming for 20% market share for 2002 with $12 million in sales and twenty million units shipped. The company has 35 employees and plans to add 15 more by the end of the year.
Inside Contactless has focused on the development of contactless products and markets using 13.56 MHz technology. Its passive chips are powered by the RF magnetic field, which is also used for data transmission. The company has settled on the 13.56 MHz frequency because it is standardized in both smart card and RFID markets, offers good performance in multiple environments, fits within the limits of radio-emission regulations in all industrialized countries, and achieves most of the RFID and contactless smart card cost and performance targets, including low packaging cost (no battery, small coils) and high data exchange speed.
Three standards exist currently for 13.56 MHz products: ISO 14443A for the Mifare communication method, ISO 14443B for microprocessor-based smart card chips, and ISO 15693 created by Inside Contactless, Philips, and TI for vicinity cards and long range RFID applications. The ISO 14443 A/B proximity standard specifies a range of up to 10cm. The Vicinity ISO 15693 standard is targeted for read ranges of up to 1 m.
Inside currently offers a range of memory, microprocessor and combination contact/contactless chips. The PicoCrypt and MicroCrypt chip family is designed for contactless applications requiring support for the ISO14443A standard such as payment and fare collection in mass transit. They support distance of up to 5 inches and speeds of up to 106 kbps.
PicoTag combines ISO 15693 communication standard compatibility and cryptographic security for payment and data protection. It was the first chip compatible with the ISO 15693 communication standard, according to the company. Millions have been sold and are currently in use for applications such as source tagging and logistics. The PicoTag 2KS is currently being used in smart cards for applications such as transport, access control, ID and in RFID tags and labels for logistics and object tracking.
The recently introduced PicoPass family of dual protocol contactless chips supports the ISO 15693 vicinity and ISO 14443B proximity communication standards. Proximity can be used for payment (debit-credit) while vicinity can be used for access, parking and identification. PicoPass is claimed to be the first and only 16K bits contactless chip integrating dual communication standard, allowing vicinity and fast proximity operation. The device features automatic detection of the communication standard enabling mixing of both communication modes within the same application.
PicoPass features cryptographic security, multi-application structure and electronic purse capabilities. It bridges the gap between more expensive microprocessor-based chips and lower storage capacity contactless memory chips. The chip can operate at proximity (10 cm) distance at up to 424 Kbps speed using the ISO 14443B standard for very fast access time and at vicinity (exceeding 1m distance) distance at 26 Kbps speed using the ISO 15693 standard. The chip is sampling now.
Inside Contactless offers its chips in a variety of forms, including sawn wafers, die, smart cards, inlets (module and wired antenna), Flip Chip with antenna, and tags on 35mm reels. The company also offers a variety of couplers, which are contactless tag readers.
Inside Contactless claims to be the fastest-growing company in the contactless market. The company has 40 international patents filed to date. In 2003, the company will introduce MicroPass, a 16-bit RISC chip with 64k bits of memory and support for ISO 15693 and ISO 14443B.
Competitive advantages include both proximity and vicinity operations with auto detection, a complete family of fully compatible contactless chips, and a microprocessor architecture dedicated to smart cards. The company has a large choice of packaging formats and offers a complete family of couplers and readers. All products are ISO-compatible.
Customers include BNC (Mexico) for control of imported vehicles at the borders, Avio (Japan) for tagging clothes for logistics and stock control, and ADEMCO and HID (USA) for smart cards for access control. Alfi (Italy) has developed ski passes using vicinity contactless products. Handspring has a contactless module for its Visor PDA.
Jacek Kowalski, founder, president & CEO (previously Chip Design Group Manager at Gemplus. He holds 50 international patents and was awarded best inventor in 1994 by Gemplus.)
Bernard Lieutier, director of Finance and Administration (previously group treasurer and financial analyst at Raydel - Plastic Omnium Group)
Michel Stocklin, productions manager (previously a product engineer and product qualification team leader at Schlumberger Card System)
Steve Lewis, manager of Marketing (previously worked at Siliconix, Atmel/ES2 and ST Microelectronics)
Didier Serra, co-founder, manager of Sales and Business Development (previously a project manager for the development of contactless tags and reader products at Gemplus)
Bruno Charrat, co-founder, manager of Product Marketing (previously responsible for contactless technical survey and software design for all new contactless readers and chips at Gemplus)
Dennis Khoo, director of Sales and Business Development for Asia Pacific (previously Sales Director for Motorola’s Worldwide Smartcard Solutions Division for Asia Pacific)
Michel Martin, IC Group manager (previously a chip designer at ST and Gemplus)