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Time Domain Puts UWB on RTLS Users' Radar

RFID Update's continuing series of profiles of industry companies looks at Time Domain, which pioneered UWB technology as a government contractor before setting its sites on the commercial RTLS market.
Mar 25, 2009This article was originally published by RFID Update.

March 25, 2009—After staying mostly under the radar since its spin-off from a company with roots in radar technology, Time Domain is poised to become very visible in the real time location systems (RTLS) market. The privately-held company headquartered in Huntsville, Alabama has a Fortune 500 customer base, claims a backlog of hundreds of installations, is winning new business from its partnerships in the retail, healthcare and manufacturing markets, and is benefiting from increased awareness and demand for its ultra-wideband (UWB) technology, which is a niche of the RTLS market it shares with only a few other vendors.

"2008 was about proving ourselves in the commercial market. We ran about 20 pilots. 2009 is about our global rollout and doing hundreds of installations," Time Domain senior vice president of marketing and sales Greg Clawson told RFID Update.

The company's roots are in designing custom chips and high-speed communications systems. "We were formed to revolutionize the last 30 feet of wireless communications," said Clawson. For years, the U.S. government was its dominant customer. The government provided the revenue stream Time Domain used to build out its business and develop UWB technology, but did not provide much detail about how it actually used it. "The government has commissioned us for millions of dollars annually to develop custom chips. Then they take our designs, and we don't know what they do with them."

Time Domain's founder Larry Fullerton is considered a leading pioneer in UWB and pulse-based communications technologies and holds hundreds of patents. In 2003 he began focusing efforts on developing UWB technology that could be commercialized for location applications. His company and patent portfolio were split, and now Time Domain holds 122 patents, which means it has nearly three times as many patents as employees (45).

Partners are the other key component to the company's commercial success. Virtually all of Time Domain's products are sold through partners who specialize in industries or applications. A partnership with ShopperTrak, a leading provider of retail store customer traffic analysis systems, has brought Time Domain's technology strongly into the retail market, with 120 store installations scheduled for this year.

"We're seeing good activity in retail. You'd think they're not buying in this economy, but a sensor platform gives them a lot of visibility of what's happening in their stores. It's causing retailers to rethink store operations," said Clawson. "Merchandising experts analyzed data from one of our ShopperTrak installations and calculated there was a two to 15 percent increase in same-store conversion based on this technology. I think we'll see a lot of installations."

Partnerships with healthcare- and manufacturing-focused solution providers are also bearing fruit, Clawson said, with more partners and customers to be announced soon.

Time Domain even partners with WiFi RTLS solution provider AeroScout, whom most would view as a competitor (see New RTLS Solution Combines WiFi, UWB, and RFID).

"We love WiFi, because it's a low-cost entry for a lot of industries to get their first experience with location," said Clawson. "Then we can go to them a year later and show them something they can do with something that is more precise....WiFi is not going away. It's very good for tracking some kinds of assets. It's just limited in what it can do because of accuracy."

WiFi is also standardized, which is another differentiator from UWB technology. However, Clawson said the lack of standardized, interoperable products is not a major obstacle for Time Domain or other UWB RTLS vendors.

"I think we see customers worry about dealing with small vendors, not about proprietary technology. The early adopters are all Fortune 500 companies, not mom-and-pop shops. They understand UWB is a novel technology, and they understand there are advantages to being an early adopter."

If more end user companies take that attitude, and Time Domain's scheduled installations go as expected, the company and its UWB technology won't be under the radar much longer.
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