China was the world's largest RFID market in 2007 on the back of the huge city card schemes and the $6 billion national ID card scheme, all now largely completed. The USA may revert to being the largest RFID market in the world by value in 2008 but the Chinese market will remain huge. For example, four city libraries will between them buy over 50 million book tags, more than the rest of the world combined and there may be laws to tag the 150 million pet dogs and 2.4 billion pigs yearly.
Virtually all RFID uses in China are at the behest of local and national government and they seek to boost Chinese manufacturers. Thus although NXP and Infineon have had considerable success selling RFID chips into China, they are likely to be beaten back by rigged markets favoring local suppliers when these suppliers can make adequate chips. Indeed, Huahong Microelectronics has already built up a business of several hundred million dollars in RFID chips in China. However, about twenty foreign RFID suppliers do sell modest amounts into China through agents.
All this means that, to get any major income from the Chinese market, most Western suppliers must set up joint ventures, such as Confidex working through XinTag to supply 120 million HF RFID tickets to the Chinese National Railway in the hope of accessing the full 3 billion ticket potential there, or work through local suppliers as Motorola does with UHF tags on postal bags.
In 2005, the creation of ASK TongFang marked ASK of France entering the Chinese RFID market with partner Tsinghua Tongfang (THTF), China's 3rd largest computer manufacturer. Headquartered in Beijing, THTF is owned by Beijing Tsinghua University, one of the most prominent universities in China. The company's key activities include a contactless smart card business unit incorporating systems integration.
"ASK is an innovator with global influence, and China is a key market for contactless technology. We make it a priority to adapt global solutions to suit regional markets and business environments, and are very pleased to be working with Tsinghua Tongfang. The strength of this partnership lies in the combination of ASK's exclusive technology and expertise in mass transit and other RFID markets and with THTF's client database and domestic market knowledge" said Bruno Moreau, Deputy General Manager (today General Manager), ASK.
ASK TongFang delivers pre-laminated contactless products and contactless paper tickets to China.
"We are already working on a significant number of orders. 1 million cards based on ASK technology are already used in China for mass transit and store value applications" confirmed Jean-Francois Delepau, International Development Director of ASK in 2005.
The list of joint ventures is now lengthening. In February 2008 it was announced that UPM of Finland will begin RFID tag and inlay production in Guangzhou, capital of the Guangdong province in southern China, in the third quarter of 2008. The new manufacturing site will serve the fast-growing Asian market in all RFID end-use areas, including ticketing and the apparel industry. UPM Raflatac will manufacture both high-frequency (HF) and ultra-high frequency (UHF) passive RFID tags and inlays in Guangzhou, just as it does from its factories in Finland and the USA. Some of the UHF antennas are printed. The initial RFID tag production capacity of the Guangzhou facility will be 100 million pieces per year and it can easily be scaled up to hundreds of millions of pieces according to market growth, says the company. ASK rotary screen prints some of its RFID antennas, for example for HF e-passports in Greece and UHF tags in general. Chinese supplier Hyan Label prints HF antennas directly onto paper tickets reel to reel.
For more see the report RFID in China and Organic and Printed Electronics in East Asia and attend Printed Electronics China being staged by IDTechEx in Shanghai in October.
Founded in 1997, ASK is now the supplier of the most comprehensive range of contactless cards, tickets, RFID tags and readers on the market. All products comply with ISO and EPC standards. ASK addresses the mass transit, access control, e-government ID, supply chain and logistics markets. 50 million contactless cards, tickets and RFID labels are already in use worldwide. ASK's manufacturing plant is located at its Sophia-Antipolis headquarters in France, with regional offices in Paris, Singapore and Westport, USA.