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​Why Dell is picking thermal fingerprint scanning for next year's notebooks, tablets

From 2016, Dell devices will feature thermal-scanning fingerprint sensors from Norwegian manufacturer NEXT Biometrics, which says they are more precise and cheaper to make than rival technologies.

The Dell Latitude Extreme Rugged laptop -- the sort of device which should soon feature NEXT fingerprint scanners. Image: Dell

In 2016, Dell's commercial and ruggedized notebooks and tablets will feature patented fingerprint scanner units from Norwegian firm NEXT Biometrics.

NEXT says it is providing Dell with at least 1.2 million scanners, which are based on thermal scanning, as opposed to the capacitive fingerprint scanners almost all other vendors employ.

That approach means scanners from NEXT, headquartered in Oslo, Norway, registers temperature differences between the valleys and the ridges in a fingerprint. Other scanners use a radio frequency-based signal, measuring signal-response differences between fingerprint features.

Both techniques operate at pixel-level on the sensor but NEXT argues that sensor size and security level are tightly interconnected.

Its reasoning is that the larger surface area of the sensor, the more fingerprint details can be detected and compared -- and the larger the number of identification points in the fingerprint, the better the basis of identification.

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NEXT talks about its "full-size" sensors, which measure 11.9mm by 16.9mm (0.47 by 0.67 inches) and provide a sensing area of about 201 square millimetres. In comparison, the fingerprint scanners in today's mobile phones from Apple and Samsung offer sensing areas ranging from 30 to 45 square millimetres.

Because the technology behind NEXT's fingerprint sensing is different from that used by most other vendors, the manufacturing process is unique and also less expensive, according to the firm. As a result, NEXT Biometrics says its sensors can be produced "at a fraction of comparable competitor costs".

It is the price and size that NEXT is pushing as its product's main advantages. According to NEXT CEO Tore Etholm-Idsøe an extensive comparative test conducted by the University of Madrid recently examined the NEXT sensor and concluded that size is key to fingerprint sensor system performance.

"Suppliers targeting to offer security and convenience for close to 100 percent of a population can simply not compromise on sensor size. Nor, can they offer the old swipe sensor format," Etholm-Idsøe said in a statement.

"NEXT sensors are up to 70 percent less expensive than comparable-sized competitor fingerprint sensors, which allows manufacturers to offer their customers consistent security and convenience at mass-market compatible prices."

The Dell contract was signed in November last year, for launch in real products in the last quarter this year. In the meantime, NEXT has delivered about 15,000 sensors to Dell, as a part of the preparations and ramp-up to full production, according to NEXT.

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