How to Select the Right Infrastructure for Indoor Positioning

Regardless of whether you’re considering indoor positioning technology for your hospital, workplace, warehouse or retail store, we recommend asking these four questions to help you select the best solution.

Step 1
Do you know your indoor location use case?

This is the first and arguably the most important question you should ask when weighing options for location technology. Common use cases for a location-based infrastructure include:

  • Blue Dot - to provide a real-time Blue Dot on a digital map via a mobile app, so the app users can understand where they are at any given time.
  • Wayfinding - to provide turn-by-turn directions on a digital map, via a mobile app, website, or a digital screen.
  • Asset tracking - to track and monitor all your valuable assets (eg. a portable medical device or a car) typically via an attached tag on a digital map online.
  • Contextual notifications - to provide your visitors with location-based informational or promotional messages via a mobile app.
  • Crowd monitoring - to anonymously analyze the flow of visitors in your building to understand the flow and peak times (e.g. queue monitoring).
  • Occupancy measurement - to detect occupancy per room/desk.
  • Environmental sensing - to measure and monitor the environment (e.g. humidity, oxygen rate, temperature) via IoT sensors.

Step 2
Which technology?

Once you’ve identified your use case, you are ready to select the right technology that will serve your needs. 

Use case

App-based

App-free

Recommended technologies

Blue Dot

 

Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE)

Wayfinding

 

BLE

Asset tracking

BLE - cost-effective

UWB - higher cost, higher accuracy (sub-meter)

Contextual notifications

 

BLE

 

Crowd monitoring

 

WiFi - 80+% coverage

Camera - 95+% coverage, higher accuracy

Occupancy measurement

 

IR - cost-effective

Camera - higher cost, potential data privacy issues

Environmental sensing

 

BLE, Zigbee

(To connect with the IoT sensors)

 

Step 3
Selecting the right infrastructure

It is crucial to get the highest return on investment (ROI) from your infrastructure. Therefore you should pick an infrastructure that supports both app-based and app-free use cases (from the table in Step 2).

The most common denominator (today) is BLE which can power all app-based use cases whilst also enabling asset tracking. Since WiFi and BLE operate at the same 2.4 GHz frequency band, combining WiFi with BLE is also a popular configuration that allows for app-based use cases, asset tracking as well as crowd monitoring.

Most recently, smart lighting options have also started gaining traction to enable IoT use cases by combining BLE radios in the lights. Although an expensive investment, smart lighting vendors typically offer cost justification by LED light savings and smart ambient light adjustments (eg. automatically dim lights when it's bright outside).

The table below indicates what is required, based on your choice of use case:

 

Smart WiFi

Smart Lighting

Standalone infrastructure

App-based use cases

BLE beaconing (either via included BLE radios in the WAPs or via USB beacons attached to WAPs)

BLE beaconing

(Note: Visible Light Communication "VLC" is rejected by many due to data privacy concerns)

BLE beaconing

Asset tracking

BLE sniffing

BLE sniffing

BLE sniffing - usually requires cabled power (Power over Ethernet or Mains)

Crowd monitoring

WiFi sniffing with a real-time data API

Typically not supported

The most common option is to use wired cameras

 

Smart WiFi options

Almost every large WiFi vendor offers a BLE-enabled option today. Most options offer BLE beaconing with varying levels of API support to monitor and configure them. More advanced options include BLE sniffing and WiFi sniffing with open APIs.

Retrofitting WiFi

Most building owners may upgrade their WiFi for their new buildings while keeping their infrastructure the same for their older buildings. If your current WiFi APs have a USB slot, you're in luck. Low-cost USB BLE beacons or sniffers can be plugged into your existing WiFi APs for retrofitting to save you the cost of the upgrade for older buildings.

Smart Lighting options

Several lighting vendors today offer lighting with BLE advertisement and/or sniffing BLE capabilities.

Step 4
Infrastructure requirements

Whether Smart WiFi, Smart Lighting or other, you want your infrastructure to comply with:

 

Must haves

Should haves

Nice to haves

What to Avoid / Common problems

BLE beaconing

 

High-frequency advertisement (3 Hz or higher) - most vendors support 10 Hz

 

- iBeacon support*

- Remote monitoring

 

Remote configuration

Proprietary protocols

Vendor-specific encryption

BLE sniffing

 

API with minimal latency (30 seconds or less)

Raw RSSI data support

Report all BLE data (including telemetry)

Inability to beacon and sniff simultaneously

WiFi sniffing

API with minimal latency (30 seconds or less)

Raw RSSI data support

Report all WiFi data

Inability to report on devices that are not actively connected to WiFi

 

*iBeacon is the only BLE protocol officially supported by Apple (Core Location). Without iBeacon, it is still possible to detect BLE on iOS devices using the Core Bluetooth framework but this poses 2 main challenges:

1. Background geofencing is not supported for any BLE other than iBeacon. Therefore, it will NOT be possible to tap geofencing while the app is in the background (eg. Receiving a "Welcome to my store" message while the phone is in the user's pocket)

2. Apple may reject any App Store submission that makes invalid use of the Core Bluetooth framework due to data privacy (as the correct framework for data privacy is Core Location, not Core Bluetooth and non-iBeacon BLE advertisements require Core Bluetooth instead)

FAQ

  • What density of sensors will I need for high-accuracy indoor positioning and/or asset tracking?

For Blue Dot, we recommend 1 sensor per 800 - 1600 sqft. based on the type of building. Get in touch with our team and we will provide a more accurate estimate based on your building type.

  • Is it possible to have a hybrid setup?

Yes. Pointr supports mixing and matching different hardware options (eg. BLE-enabled WAPs in one building, a completely different sensor in the car park, then standalone infrastructure in an older building, all in the same mobile app at the same campus. You can even mix different vendors and types of signals inside the same building.) 

  • Can I retrofit?

Yes. Some lighting companies support retrofitting existing lighting infrastructure. Similarly, some WiFi companies offer USB dongles to attach to their older models to enable IoT capabilities.

  • Is my infrastructure secure?

BLE beaconing or BLE sniffing will not make your infrastructure insecure. The data advertised via BLE beaconing is harmless. The data collected via BLE sniffing won't be of much use either.

  • Is it data privacy compliant?

BLE beaconing, BLE sniffing and WiFi sniffing are data privacy friendly and are anonymous by default. 


Conclusion

At Pointr, we believe the future of IoT is flexible and API-driven. The future is not to have a vendor-specific tie-in with little flexibility and typically hefty fees every time you need something. We have a broad family of partners comprising many WiFi vendors (Cisco, Extreme Networks), lighting vendors (GE Current, OSRAM, Panasonic Lighting, Enlighted), tech giants (Microsoft, Honeywell, Zebra), and other IoT players (VergeSense, kontakt.io, Confidex) among others. 

It is in our interest and in every building owner/operator’s interest to invest in a future-proof infrastructure to tap the potential of IoT without having to worry about the fine print.

Get in touch if you have any questions about this article or our vision - we're happy to provide vendor-neutral advice!

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