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Wireless Communications and Mobile Computing
Volume 2018, Article ID 9546854, 10 pages
https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/9546854
Research Article

Tunable Platform Tolerant Antenna Design for RFID and IoT Applications Using Characteristic Mode Analysis

1School of Electronic Science and Engineering, University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC), Chengdu, China
2Wireless Communication Centre, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Correspondence should be addressed to Jun Ouyang; nc.ude.ctseu@uojy

Received 2 February 2018; Accepted 4 March 2018; Published 10 May 2018

Academic Editor: Masood Ur-Rahman

Copyright © 2018 Abubakar Sharif et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Abstract

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a key technology to realize IoT (Internet of Things) dreams. RFID technology has been emerging in sensing, identification, tracking, and localization of goods. In order to tag a huge number of things, it is cost-effective to use one RFID antenna for tagging different things. Therefore, in this paper a platform tolerant RFID tag antenna with tunable capability is proposed. The proposed tag antenna is designed and optimized using characteristic mode analysis (CMA). Moreover, this tag antenna consists of a folded patch wrapped around FR 4 substrate and a feeding loop element printed on a paper substrate. The inductive feeding loop is stacked over folded patch and it provides impedance match with RFID chip. Because of separate radiating and feeding element, this tag antenna has a versatility of impedance matching with any RFID chip. Furthermore, this tag is able to cover American RFID band (902–928 MHz) and can be tuned to European RFID band (865–868 MHz) by adding tunable strips. In order to demonstrate platform tolerant operation, the read range of RFID tag is measured by mounting it on different materials. The maximum read range of RFID tag is 4.5 m in free space or on dielectrics and 6.5 m above 200 × 200 mm2 metal plate, respectively.

1. Introduction

The modern wireless technologies are driving this world towards a new paradigm which includes Internet of Things (IoT) and Internet of Everything (IoE). In IoT world, everything will have its own unique identity. The Internet of Things (IoT) will provide an emerging integrated wireless platform, where physical and virtual things can be uniquely identified on a global scale and are connected with a global network. IoT becomes prevalent in both research and industries due to its unique emerging applications like smart cities [1, 2], connected vehicles [2], healthcare monitoring [35], and so on [2]. Radio frequency identification (RFID) is one of the vital technologies of IoT since it enables a device (object) not only to share its unique digital code across a network wirelessly, but also to capture its physical status for localization on a global scale [6]. RFID in combination with IoT has opened a new paradigm and new era of applications [7]. A descriptive modal to enable an IoT network integrated with RFID technology is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: IoT descriptive modal integrated with RFID.

The thing’s basic information will be stored in electronic RFID tag in form of electronic product code (EPC) or universal identification (UID) and this information can be read by wireless RFID reader, which can be accessed from anywhere through Internet [810].

Passive ultrahigh (UHF) RFID tags are more attractive for most of applications because of their long-read range and high data rate capabilities. Moreover, the low cost, easily printable structure of UHF RFID tags enables them to integrate or embed inside tagged objects, to give them a unique attribute. However, UHF RFID tags are much more sensitive towards host tagging objects such as metals, wood, and glass. This sensitivity, on one side, is good for exploiting UHF RFID tags as sensing device. On the other hand, this sensitivity towards different surfaces requires a separate UHF RFID tag design for each tagged entity [7, 11]. Therefore, it is advantageous and cost-effective to design one low cost, platform tolerant antenna solution to tag most of the things.

In literature, there are many solutions available to solve this problem of platform tolerant UHF RFID tag especially for counter metallic surface effects [12, 13]. In [14], a dual layer PIFA antenna was introduced for platform tolerant applications. However, the performance of this design is highly depending on location of vias. Also, the dual layer structure with introduction of vias makes it a costly solution. A single layer coupled loop based antenna fabricated on 3 mm thick FR 4 substrate was proposed in [15], for tagging metal and low permittivity dielectric materials. Although this proposed antenna works on metal with read range of 6 m, its major drawback is substrate thickness. In [16], a stepped impedance coupled patch antenna was designed on a thin substrate. However, this coupled patch has small bandwidth especially on metallic surfaces. Another folded patch antenna with digital edge serration was designed in [17], for tagging metallic objects. This antenna was wrapped around 3 mm thick substrate with RFID chip mounted on vertical edge, which leads to a structure which is expensive and difficult to fabricate. Also, the vertical chip mounting configuration is more vulnerable to damage. Another solution was proposed in [18] by employing a hybrid dual port tag antenna, which consists of a dipole embedded with a patch antenna. This design has large size with 3.2 mm substrate thickness.

There are many techniques to design an efficient platform tolerant antenna such as impedance analysis, employing metamaterials (electromagnetic bandgap (EBG), artificial magnetic conductance (AMC)), and circuit analysis.

Characteristic mode analysis (CMA) in combination with theory of characteristic modes (TCM) is becoming a prevalent systematic tool to design efficient terminal antennas. The use of TCM in antenna design was not new topic. It was first proposed by Garbacz and later redefined by Harrington and Mautz [19]. However, in some recent years, TCM was revisited to get physical insight into antenna designing. TCM is more attractive and systematic approach because of its following features [19, 20]. (1) It provides a more systematic design approach rather than a brute-force. (2) It also allows designer to get physical insight into antenna’s operation. (3) It can help to find resonance frequency of specific mode. (4) It also allows finding the optimum feed arrangement to excite these specific modes. Moreover, there are very few designs available using CMA for RFID [21, 22] and IoT applications [23].

In this paper, a tunable platform tolerant folded patch antenna is proposed for UHF RFID and IoT applications using characteristic mode analysis. This antenna consists of a folded patch (wrapped around FR 4 substrate) and a small inductive feeding loop. The feeding loop printed on a paper substrate is stacked over folded patch configuration. The proposed folded patch is optimized using CMA to resonate at 915 MHz. The small feeding loop is connected with RFID chip to provide a conjugate impedance match.

Because of separate radiating and feeding element, the proposed tag antenna has a versatility of impedance matching with any RFID chip. Furthermore, this tag is able to cover US RFID band and can be tuned to European RFID band by adding tunable strips. In order to validate platform tolerant operation, the read range of RFID tag is measured by mounting it on different materials. The maximum read range of RFID tag is 4.5 m in free space or on dielectrics and 6.5 m above 200 × 200 mm2 metal plate, respectively. Moreover, this tag can also be equipped with IoT based sensors to sense environmental effects and processes, thanks to its platform tolerant capability. The low cost, tunable, and platform tolerant feature of this antenna makes it suitable for RFID and IoT applications.

2. Characteristic Mode Analysis

2.1. Theory of Characteristic Modes (TCM)

Characteristic modes can be defined as orthogonal surface current modes of an arbitrary shaped conducting body, which totally depend on its shape and size and are independent of any feed source.

Moreover, characteristic modes (CM) can be derived by solving eigenvalue equations, obtained from Method of Moments (MoM) based impedance matrix as follows:where and are real and imaginary components of MoM impedance matrix; are eigencurrents and are eigenvalues:Furthermore, because of the orthogonality of characteristics modes, they can be used to derive total surface current of an antenna as follows:where is model excitation coefficient and it can be obtained as expressed byThe product determines the coupling between th mode and excitation. It also provides information about which mode of antenna is excited by feed or incident electric field ().

2.2. Characteristic Mode Analysis for Rectangular Plate

The theory of characteristic modes (TCM) has been employed to calculate characteristic modes of a rectangular plate (160 × 25 mm2) mounted on a FR 4 (2 mm thick, loss less) substrate. The multilayer solver of CST Microwave studio has been used for modal analysis.

Figure 2 shows the normalized current distribution (at 915 MHz) of first four associated characteristic modes of rectangular plate (as shown in subset of Figure 3). In order to understand behavior of these modes, eigenvalues will be used in combination with normalized current distributions. The eigenvalue associated with resonating modes is zero; it is concluded that the smaller the eigenvalue associated with a mode is, the more efficiently it will contribute to radiation. Moreover, the sign of eigenvalue determines whether a mode is storing electrical energy () or magnetic energy (). The eigenvalues associated with aforementioned modes of rectangular plate in free space are shown in Figure 3. The mode resonates near 1.1 GHz as eigenvalue is zero near 1.1 GHz. Because of symmetry, the mode will propagate even if we use half of the length of rectagular plate. As can be seen from Figure 2, the mode behaves like an inductive mode; it can also be confirmed from its associated eigenvalue (). Furthermore, mode represents capacitator like current distribution with eigenvalue (). Mode is a resonating mode at 1.6 GHz.

Figure 2: Normalized current distribution at 915 MHz of first four associated modes of 160 × 25 mm2 rectangular plate.
Figure 3: Eigenvalues of typical rectangular plate in free space.

Another parameter known as modal significance is also very useful in determining how efficiently a mode resonates. Also, with the application of external excitation source, modal significance determines the contribution of particular mode to total radiation. The modal significance associated with characteristic modes of 160 × 25 mm2 rectangular plate is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Modal significance of first four modes of 160 × 25 mm2 rectangular plate.

Mode 1 and Mode 4 are resonating modes and will contribute to radiation, when excited by a source, since their modal significance approaches 1 (as shown in Figure 4).

Modal significance can be defined as follows:Additionally, characteristic angle computed from eigenvalues as expressed by (6) is also very useful in determining exact resonance frequencies especially where more than one mode needs to be excited (e.g., circular polarized antenna design). The characteristic angle associated with first four modes of 160 × 25 mm2 rectangular plate are presented in Figure 5. For resonating modes , therefore, Mode 1 and Mode 4 are resonating modes at 1.1 GHz and 1.6 GHz, respectively.

Figure 5: Characteristic angle of first four modes of 160 × 25 mm2 rectangular plate.

3. RFID Tag Antenna Design Using CMA

3.1. CMA of Dipole Patch

Start from Mode 2 () of aforementioned rectangular plate (160 × 25 mm2). As discussed earlier Mode 2 is an inductive mode. In order to make it as a resonating mode, a small slot (corresponding to adding a capacitance) is created and it becomes dipole like patch as shown in subset of Figure 6. As can be seen from Figure 7, the two modes are resonating at 920 MHz and 1.1 GHz, respectively. Furthermore, it can be inferred from normalized current distribution (shown in Figures 2 and 7) that Mode 1 of rectangular plate and Mode 2 of dipole patch are same. It means that the introduction of slot has no effect on this mode.

Figure 6: Eigenvalues of dipole patch in free space.
Figure 7: Normalized current distribution at 915 MHz of two associated resonating modes of dipole patch.

Inductive Mode 2 of rectangular plate becomes a resonating mode with introduction of capacitance introduced by small slot.

3.2. CMA of Proposed Folded Patch

The dipole patch is working at 920 MHz (US RFID bands 902 MHz to 928 MHz); however its length is more in order to use it as RFID tag. Due to symmetry, Mode 1 (resonating at 920 MHz) of dipole patch will still resonate, even if half of the dipole patch is used (80 mm). In order to reduce the length further the patch is folded with same length on FR 4 substrate as shown in subset of Figure 8. The eigenvalue plot of resulting folded patch antenna is illustrated in Figure 8. To confirm its operation as platform tolerant design, the eigenvalue plot of one resonating mode is depicted in Figure 8, after placing this folded patch in free space and above a finite perfect electric conductor (PEC) boundary. It can be observed from eigenvalue plot that the resonance frequency of Mode 1 is almost same for both in free space and above PEC boundary conditions.

Figure 8: Eigenvalues of folded patch in free space and above metal plate.

However, the slope of eigenvalue plot of Mode 1 is different for two different boundary conditions. Moreover, Mode 1 of folded patch has a steep slope, above metal plate as compared with free space, which means that folded patch has more bandwidth in free space as compared with above metal.

3.3. CMA of Proposed Folded Patch with Tunable Strips

As can be seen from normalized current distribution of folded patch antenna expressed in Figure 9, since the current in Mode 1 is maximum near folded end and decreases towards the slot, it behaves like cavity backed slot antenna. The effective length of current path can be increased by adding two tunable strips on both sides of folded patch near the slot as depicted in subset of Figure 10. Hence, the antenna can be tuned to European RFID band (866 MHz–868 MHz). The tuning of folded patch to European RFID band can also be confirmed from eigenvalue and modal significance plot (Figure 10) of this folded patch after adding tuning strips.

Figure 9: Normalized current distribution at 915 MHz of folded patch.
Figure 10: Eigenvalue and modal significance of folded patch (with tunable strips) above metal plate.

4. Simulation Results

In order to realize an RFID tag antenna, a feeding strategy should be proposed for the folded patch obtained after characteristic mode analysis. Since most of RFID tag chips have capacitive impedance, requiring the tag impedance to be inductive for conjugate match, therefore, inductive coupled loop is a good option to feed this antenna. Besides, the conjugate matching, a separate coupled inductive loop, also provides a versatility of impedance matching with any RFID chip, just by altering loop parameter, without any change in main radiator (folded patch).

The complete antenna geometry of proposed folded patch RFID tag is shown in Figure 11. Finally, the proposed design consists of a folded patch as main radiator and a small inductive feeding loop in order to match with RFID chip.

Figure 11: Geometry of proposed folded patch RFID tag antenna.

Furthermore, Figure 12 shows the surface current distribution after placing the inductive feeding loop above folded patch; it is clear from Figure 12 that the feed loop excites the same mode as expressed in characteristics mode analysis of folded patch antenna (Figure 9). The proposed folded patch is wrapped around a low cost FR 4 substrate (, ). Furthermore, the inductive feeding loop is printed on a 0.25 mm thick paper substrate.

Figure 12: Normalized surface current distribution of proposed folded patch RFID tag with feeding loop.

The detailed dimensions of proposed design are illustrated in Figure 13. Antenna design parameters involved in simulation are optimized further using frequency domain solver of CST microwave studio and are listed in Table 1. Moreover, Alien Higgs H3 has been used as RFID chip with impedance (30–201 j) computed from equivalent circuit of parallel 1500 ohms resistance and 0.85 pF capacitance.

Table 1: Parameters of the antenna (mm).
Figure 13: Dimension of proposed folded patch RFID tag. (a) Front view; (b) front view with tuning strips; (c) side view.

As shown in Figure 14, the simulated input impedance plot of this tag design confirms the working antenna in American RFID band (US) without tunable strips and can be tuned to European RFID (EU) band with tuning strips. The real and imaginary impedance of antenna is ranging from 30 to 40 Ohms and 180 to 205 Ohms, respectively, in required RFID bands, which is best matched with Alien Higgs-3 RFID chip.

Figure 14: Simulated impedance of proposed folded patch RFID tag.

To verify antenna performance as platform tolerant design, for simulation purpose, the antenna is placed on two different materials: (1) a 200 × 200 mm2 plate with relative permittivity , representing a low permittivity dielectric; (2) a 200 × 200 mm2 metal plate. For both cases, the power reflection corresponding to conjugate match of this proposed design is shown in Figure 15. The 3 dB bandwidth of antenna is more than 40 MHz for both cases in US band, with a little bit shift in center frequency for metal case. However, the bandwidth of antenna is enough to protect it from detuning. Moreover, the antenna also provides 3 dB bandwidth of 30 MHz in EU band. Also, in this case, there is a small shift in center frequency as compared with metal and dielectric case.

Figure 15: Simulated return loss of proposed RFID tag on 200 × 200 mm2 dielectric and metal plate.

Furthermore, the directivity of this tag antenna is 5.87 dBi, after mounting it on a 200 × 200 mm2 metal plate as depicted in Figure 16.

Figure 16: Radiation pattern of tag on 200 × 200 mm2 metal plate.

5. Measurement and Discussion

A prototype of proposed RFID tag was fabricated on a ground substrate with one shorted end as shown in Figure 17. Alien Higgs H3 RFID chip is connected with small feeding loop printed on a paper substrate. This paper substrate containing feed loop is then pasted on slot of folded patch.

Figure 17: Fabricated prototype of proposed RFID tag antenna.

To validate the performance of antenna on different materials, the input impedance of this tag was measured using Agilent E8363B vector network analyzer by following the procedure expressed in [24].

The impedance measurement setup is depicted in the inset of Figure 18. The outer coats of two coaxial cables were soldered together, while the single end of each cable was attached with open ends of feeding loop. The return loss of antenna was computed by formula given in [24] using parameter measured from this setup.

Figure 18: Measured return loss of proposed RFID tag on 200 × 200 mm2 metal plate.

As compared with simulated results (Figure 18), a better impedance match was observed for 865 to 868 MHz band, whereas the value of measured return loss is more for 902 to 928 MHz band. Overall, the measured results show a good agreement with simulation results with a little reduction in bandwidth. This may be due to some fabrication error or cable loss. Moreover, the measurement procedure also introduces some discrepancies.

Furthermore, the glue used to paste the feeding loop also introduces some change in permittivity and thickness of substrate.

The theoretical read range of RFID tag can be estimated using Friis equation as follows:where , are transmitted power and gain of RFID reader, is gain of tag antenna, and is minimum threshold power of chip.

However, another better and more practical approach to estimate maximum read range with maximum permitted EIRP is to calculate read range first for small value of EIRP with a fixed distance as expressed bywhere is maximum read range of the tag, is reference fixed distance measured in lab, is maximum permitted EIRP = 4 Watts for most of the regions, and is reference EIRP of range measuring equipment. A Tagformance Pro device (from Voyantic Company) based setup was employed to measure maximum read range in lab as illustrated in Figure 19. A frequency sweep is run by the Tagformance with a fixed distance () provided by foam spacer. The theoretical read range is estimated by system software using formula expressed by (8). The measured read range of proposed tag above 200 × 200 mm2 metal plate using Tagformance setup is shown in Figure 20. As is clear from Figure 20, the measured read range of proposed tag is 6.2 m on 200 × 200 mm2 metal plate.

Figure 19: Tagformance based read range measuring setup.
Figure 20: Theoretical read range proposed RFID tag on 200 × 200 mm2 metal plate using Tagformance.

To verify the robustness of this tag solution, the read range of RFID tag was measured after mounting on different materials in outdoor and indoor lab environments with 4 W EIRP. The measurement setup includes a laptop, Impinj R420 reader, and a circular polarized reader antenna. The read range measurements are carried out at 920 MHz.

Furthermore, the different mounting materials used in range measurement were of plastic, wood, glass, and book (200 × 200 mm2). The maximum measured read range on aforementioned materials is illustrated in Figure 21. Moreover, the maximum read measured on metal plate is 6.5 m, while the measured read range on all other materials is more than 4.5 m in indoor environment. However, there is a small reduction in read range observed in outdoor environment.

Figure 21: Measured read range of proposed RFID tag on block of different materials (200 × 200 mm2).

Moreover, the measured read range pattern of this tag design is shown in Figure 22. A good unidirectional read range pattern with maximum read distance of 6.5 m is acquired in -plane. Also, it can be observed from Figure 22 that the maximum read angle is tilted since the surface current distribution is more near folded edge.

Figure 22: Measured read range pattern of proposed RFID tag on 200 × 200 mm2 metal plate.

The comparison of proposed design with some other RFID tags in terms of size and performance is listed in Table 2.

Table 2: Comparison of proposed antenna with other several designs.

6. Conclusion

In Internet of Things (IoT), every object can be connected to Internet through a unique digital code to identify it on global scale. RFID in combination with IoT has opened a new paradigm and era of applications. In order to tag a huge number of things, it is cost-effective to use one RFID tag antenna for different things. Therefore, in this paper, a platform tolerant folded patch antenna with tunable capability is proposed for UHF RFID and IoT applications using characteristic mode analysis. The proposed design consists of a folded patch wrapped around FR 4 substrate and a small inductive feeding loop printed on a paper substrate. The proposed folded patch is optimized using CMA to resonate at 915 MHz. Since this tag has a separate radiating and feeding element, therefore it can be reusable and has a versatility of impedance matching with any RFID chip. Furthermore, in order to prove platform tolerant capability of proposed RFID tag, its read range is measured after mounting on different material. The maximum read range of RFID tag is 4.5 m in free space or on dielectrics and 6.5 m above 200 × 200 mm2 metal plate, respectively. The platform tolerant capability of this antenna makes it favorable for integration with IoT sensors, which can be used to sense environmental effects and processes. Moreover, the low cost and tunable features of this antenna make it suitable candidate for RFID and IoT applications.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this paper.

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