We will try and give an overall glimpse of where chip timing is going in the future. Systems can be divided by used frequency. We follow this grouping method. We hope useful information can be found on this site for race organizers as well as for people who are interesting in RFiD technology.
Low Frequency (123-134kHz) – Still the benchmark technology as used by ChampionChip, RFID Race Timing Systems and WinningTime. Very reliable technology with good resistance to noise and small compact and relatively low cost transponders that last forever. The disadvantage is that quite a few readers are needed on a large start line and large, generally heavy mats need to be used. Texas Instruments components generally dominate this technology that was developed in the early 90s.
High Frequency (13.56MHz) – – Probably the most widely used technology in RFID tracking of goods but currently no main stream timing company uses this band. IPICO Sports Co. does have a dual frequency system that uses 134kHz for charging the transponder and high frequency to read back the chip codes. It appears that HF may be more prone to noise and worse in aqueous environments but has the potential advantage of reading more chips per time per reader. DAG also uses a high frequency passive transponder but I am unsure what frequency exactly they use. Their system is relatively simple to set up but can have problems with read rates in noisy environments and I would question whether a US$2 DAG is truly disposable.
UHF (900MHz) –– All the hype you have heard about UHF is generally from reader and transponder manufacturers trying to produce a product for Walmart. The advantages are very low cost transponders (truly disposable at as low as 15c each), high read ranges of up to 9 metres and fast reads of large numbers of transponders by a single reader. Readers are still quite expensive. It all sounds great but there are some severely limiting factors for sports timing. Firstly the tags work very poorly next to water and metal so they are difficult to mount on a runner without seriously comprimising performance. Tags cannot be read through objects like other runners (70% water) so you need 'line of sight' from reader antenna to tag. Why can Wifi read through walls but not UHF RFID? Well it is mainly about power levels and the backscatter technology used by the passive UHF transponder. There are tight restrictions on power levels of readers due to this band being used by most cell phone companies. If power levels could be increased and mount on metal/water tags developed, this technology may be adopted in the future.
Active Transponders – – The main company here is AMB-IT and J-Chip (MTS) which uses a transponder with a small battery and a single loop on the road to read quite a few transponders at the same time. Main advantage is the reader antenna system is light and relatively cheap and can be setup quite quick. Main disadvantage is that the transponders are over US$100 each so it is obvious why this technology is not used much in large fun-runs. For elite level races like cycle road races and triathlon/marathon this technology is superior because of its reliability and simple setup. Used at the Olympics and Tour de France. If we could make a low cost active transponder, then this would be the superior technology.