Indoor Location Services (ILS) - Bring a competitive advantage to your enterprise network

By Bill Carr ·

In the last few months, we've heard a great deal about how indoor location services are becoming the “next” frontier in differentiating your environment from competitors.  We’re seeing opportunities to truly differentiate your employee’s and customer’s experience with these services.   They can enhance services, reduce personnel costs, improve customer satisfaction and provide additional revenue streams by keeping the client engaged, and providing a personalized experience.

We’ll cover a few basics in what the technologies can do for various vertical markets, give you some background on the competing technologies, and provide some reasons why you should be considering indoor location services for your campus or enterprise network.

Background:

We’re all aware of how GPS technology has changed outdoor navigation,  forever.  No more hunting or unfolding gas station paper maps that are outdated.  GPS technology has even changed to avoid offline map updates and provide real-time traffic updates.

GPS relies on triangulation of your device with geostationary satellites, (with a synchronized clock) to measure your location, and today, plot it on a map of your surroundings (roads, satellite photos,  etc.).

The problem is that indoors, GPS signals cannot always be received, so we must rely on other sources.

Technologies:

There are a few competing and complementary technologies in this market.  Today outdoor mapping solutions on smartphones have started to use known cell tower and WiFi hot spot locations to enhance GPS triangulation and provide greater location granularity and accuracy.  There is no clear winner or best technology decided in the indoor location services market,  yet.  Our expectation is that most of these technologies will exist, co-exist, and compete for indoor services for the next few years.

WLAN / WiFi Triangulation – Wifi Triangulation measures signal strength from multiple known access points to triangulate your position.  With a known indoor map, and accurate readings of signal strength from multiple APs, accuracy can be as granular as 3-5 meters with a relatively dense AP deployment.  The user does not have to join a WLAN or WiFi network to be located, but simply has to have the client WiFi adapter enabled to provide visibility.

NFC – Near Field Contact – Built into many new smartphones, (and credit cards), NFC can provide a low power, proximity based location service within a building.  The close proximity requirements and the enablement of NFC on a device might conspire to make this difficult to mandate/implement for public venues/devices.

Bluetooth / BLE - Many electronic devices contain Bluetooth, including every smartphone. These Bluetooth sensors can read signals from dedicated beacons, or dynamically create a mesh network of Bluetooth signals that constantly corrects and refines relative position and location.  Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy is built into most new Smartphones and is the core of the Apple iBeacon solution.

Application / User Data Fingerprinting – Utilizes your wifi/gps/cellular for a few seconds to get a location fingerprint and associate it with a Check-In location in certain applications.  It will then compare the current location fingerprint to a known database of Fingerprint/Location pairs.  These device services are frequently used in conjunction with applications like Google Places, FourSquare, Instagram or Facebook.  This allows a more accurate location within a building.  For example, checking into a place like Reston Town Center Mall has many different location fingerprints depending on where you are in the building.  If your location fingerprint is not found in its database it will ask you to enter a new specific location.

Combination GPS/Cellular/Bluetooth/Wifi Triangulation – Uses inputs from GPS, Cellular, Bluetooth, or Wifi, when available, to determine position.  This allows a smooth transition from outdoor to indoor positioning.   When utilizing multiple sources, it is important to determine how your solution will rank each source for reliability, accuracy and combine them for the greatest accuracy.

When combined with end-user device level access (such as with an on-device application), you can expect even greater accuracy, and provide options for push or pop-up notifications.

So why are these services important to my business?

Navigation – Navigate inside large hospitals, shopping malls, museums, airports, office buildings, college campuses, manufacturing plants, conference centers and sporting/convention venues.  Show locations for important services, such as food, concierge, restrooms, etc.

Location sharing for Social apps – Share your location with family and friends at large, crowded locations, or meeting up after individual activities.

Shopping / in-building routing – Find specific locations within a store for every item on your shopping list.  Can’t find something?  Enter a search term to find location of any product.  Plan a hospital / museum trip to utilize most convenient parking and other services.  Plan your Mall trip to avoid wasted time.

Offers/Coupons/Revenue – Receive discount coupons and offers for products and services.  With store app access, use previous shopping history to offer complimentary products/incentives.  For example, trigger a pop-up notification for shoppers passing by your store in the mall (Walk-by notifications).  Casino/Mall customer’s may provide “meal-time” pop-ups, incentives/notifications to keep revenue in-house, or provide event scheduling in-app to keep customer’s engaged.

Public Safety – Fire/Police - First Responder coordination and tracking in large, crowded or dark locations.  Provide routing to closest refuge points on large college or healthcare campuses.  Provide evacuation / emergency information for any business.

Advertising/Information by location – Targeted advertising based on precise location, time, and interests.  Post current events, schedules, activities by location.

Manufacturing/Inventory/Asset tracking – Track movements of machinery, expensive inventory, assets, robots, vehicles, etc.

Personnel location – Real-time location of personnel like doctors, nurses, faculty, students, facilities, other team members.

So what do I need to do?

This is one technology that in many cases is not driven as an IT solution.  It has far reaching impact on Facilities, Public Safety, Marketing, Customer  Service and potentially many other departments.  Below is an outline of the tasks you should be considering as you begin your Indoor Location Services planning:
  • Identify your in-house stakeholders.  This is the most critical step; ensuring all stakeholder departments are represented in the project, not just from the requirements definition, but to assign cost/funding as appropriate to the departments benefiting from the solution.
  • Plan your desired goals/requirements for ILS (what services will you provide and to whom).  This may include simple Navigation, device/asset/user tracking, Application Integration, Advertising/Notification services.  Determine the scope of your services (corporate, public).
  • Determine the capabilities of the devices you want to track (public, corporate issued).
    • Do you need to provide push content/pop-up notifications?
    • Does the solution require that your app is running in order for this to occur?
  • Involve an expert.  This is rapidly changing market, and creating a solution that does not meet your needs (or support your client devices), is a misstep your business cannot afford.  Find an expert that has experience with multiple market leaders, and within your vertical market (Healthcare, Retail,  Education).
  • Evaluate a short-list of the technologies supported by your goals.

Conclusion:

At Comm Solutions Company, we have a vision of where these technologies will move in the next 18-24 months.

It is anticipated that most deployed solutions will utilize a combination of ILS sources, with WLAN as primary where deployed, and potentially BLE as a secondary source for some customers.

Integrated with in-Application visibility, these solutions will allow many businesses to gain significant competitive advantages and provide additional revenue streams by keeping customers engaged.

Our 30+ years of experience in servicing the IT needs of the Tri-State region has morphed into supporting national and multi-national customers with projects that expand beyond the IT department to include Marketing, Corporate governance, such as ILS and Guest Networking.    Be confident, we can assist in every aspect of your ILS requirements definition, design, evaluation and deployment.