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Is Location Tracking in Your WiFi's Future?

ARC Advisory Group's Chantal Polsonetti discusses the burgeoning interest from manufacturers in WiFi-based real-time locationing systems, which offer rapid time to benefit of 12 to 18 months and can be overlaid on enterprises' existing wireless LANs.
Jul 31, 2006This article was originally published by RFID Update.

July 31, 2006—Use of RFID for ROI-driven applications is of burgeoning interest to manufacturers as an increasing number of processes that can benefit from this technology are identified. Unlike the experience with complying with retailer supply chain mandates, however, manufacturers have more numerous technology options available to them versus the UHF passive RFID employed in supply chain applications. Low frequency, high frequency, passive, and active RFID technologies have all been deployed in various point solutions to date. Manufacturers interested specifically in location tracking applications now have another technology to consider: WiFi-based location tracking over standard IEEE 802.11-based networks.

Rapid time to benefit within the 12- to 18-month timeframe preferred by manufacturers is a primary driver behind keen interest in the WiFi solutions, particularly for asset tracking applications. Infrastructure provider Cisco sparked significant interest in the use of WiFi-based location tracking when it announced the 2700 Series Wireless Location Appliance, adding major supplier support and a standards-based infrastructure to the growing list of drivers behind this segment.

Location tracking providers are pursuing integration of their offerings with the Cisco appliance, now called the 2710. For example, the Cisco appliance natively supports the T2 wireless tracking tag from Aeroscout. In general, most WiFi providers are now making location tracking a feature of their wireless networks and establishing relationships with traditional location tracking solution providers such as Aeroscout and WhereNet as well as the new crop of WiFi-based providers such as Ekahau, Newbury Networks, and PanGo.

One of the key assertions behind the push to add location tracking capabilities to existing wireless LANs is the contention that, in some industries, the wireless network infrastructure is already in place for data and Voice-over-IP (VoIP) applications. The argument here is that the location tracking capabilities can simply be overlaid on the existing infrastructure, leading to the fact that the core competencies of most of the new breed of WiFi-based location tracking solution providers lie in the realm of software platforms and location tracking algorithms rather than the physics of radio frequency. Wireless adoption for these multiple purposes has proceeded more rapidly in industries outside of manufacturing, such as healthcare, so consequently those industries where wireless networks are more pervasive are the early targets for many of these WiFi-based solutions. Manufacturing applications, and the large number of assets deployed, are certainly on the radar screen for most providers, however.

While the potential to overlay a location tracking solution on an existing wireless infrastructure is a key attribute for the WiFi-based tracking systems, in practice things are not always so straightforward. For example, in order to generate the X,Y,Z coordinates required by the triangulation algorithms used for location tracking, many users need to upgrade the number of wireless access points (WAPs) deployed. In some cases, the number of WAPs needs to be doubled in order to generate the three reads necessary for triangulation. This should be one of the issues that gives potential end users pause as to whether or not the accuracy of an X,Y,Z system is required for their application or if it can be more readily served by a traditional RFID installation. Also, in spite of the use of a standards-based infrastructure, tags from one supplier will not currently interoperate with those of another. WiFi-based tracking is also best suited for indoor applications, and the 2.45 GHz frequency does not perform well in environments with a significant amount of metal. Finally, the current generation of tags can be very pricey, ranging from $50 to $65 at list price for quantity one.

Introduction by G2 Microsystems of the G2C501 $12 System-on-a-Chip (SoC) for location, sensing, and tracking will address some of the price issues with WiFi tags (see New Chip Could Transform Active RFID Market). This standards-based, low-power chip promises extended life for battery-powered WiFi tags, as well as a sensor interface that will allow OEMs to incorporate incremental sensing capabilities. Production quantities are expected to be available later this year, and a number of providers have already signed up to OEM the SoC (see Smaller, Cheaper, Longer-Lasting RTLS Tags Hit Market).
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