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WiFi Coverage Helps Ekahau Find RTLS Opportunity

This installment of our coverage of innovative companies and people in the RFID industry spotlights Ekahau, whose singular focus on the WiFi market has created a spectrum of possibilities.
Mar 18, 2009This article was originally published by RFID Update.

March 18, 2009—As an RTLS provider, Ekahau helps its customers find things. By doing so, Ekahau's people and products find themselves in interesting places, from deep in mines in South America, to factory floors and hospital wards around the world, to space research centers that are simulating how WiFi RTLS technology might perform on Mars.

"You have to go where the market is," Ekahau vice president of business development Tuomo Rutanen told RFID Update. Ekahau is committed to going where the market is. The company was founded in Helsinki, Finland in 2000, but relocated its headquarters to the US (Reston, Virginia) in 2003. "The Americas account for the lion's share of our business, and that's probably true for the rest of the RFID industry. We brought our headquarters here because it is where most of our customers, partners and investors are, and it gives us better access to customer and capital markets." The privately-held firm maintains development facilities in Finland and manages its European operations from there, and has offices in Hong Kong, Japan and California.

Ekahau designs and manufactures real time location system tags that operate on WiFi-standard networks, and develops positioning software for integrating RTLS data into other applications. Its tag line includes models that provide two-way communication, blinking LEDs and integrated sensors. The company tries to differentiate itself from makers of other WiFi and RTLS technologies by focusing on products and applications that go beyond basic asset tracking, where more precision, data or two-way communication are needed.

Ekahau sells its products exclusively through partners, including systems integrators, wireless LAN solution providers and equipment makers who OEM Ekahau's products into their own. The indirect sales approach has diversified Ekahau across multiple industries, with customer concentrations in healthcare, retail, manufacturing, mining, oil & gas operations and government.

"Our go-to-market strategy is the same around the world. We are fortunate because there is a good base of companies who understand how to sell and install WiFi," said Rutanen.

Ekahau goes where opportunity is, but plans to stay firmly anchored to the WiFi industry, despite the promise shown by other RTLS technologies. The first well-known RTLS systems featured proprietary, non-WiFi technologies, and lately ultra-wideband (UWB) RTLS has been gaining favor because of its high accuracy. Several other effective technologies also hold down niches in the RTLS market. Rather than competing with multiple technologies and dozens of vendors based on frequencies, algorithms and other technical specs, Ekahau is betting on the biggest market.

"You need acts of God to get major corporations to start wiring proprietary systems into their facilities," said Rutanen. "There is more money being invested in WiFi today than in any other technology that falls under the RFID umbrella. All of the WiFi infrastructure vendors -- the Ciscos, the Arubas, the Tropos, etc. -- have really embraced RTLS. They educate the market and promote the technology, which wasn't the case five years ago."

Such support has raised awareness for WiFi to levels not enjoyed by other RTLS technologies. The support, coupled with the ever-growing base of wireless LAN installations, provides a very solid market opportunity. It also creates unusual ones, and Ekahau remains ready to pursue them.

"Being in this industry is a lot of fun. A lot of the ideas we get for how to use WiFi come right from the customers themselves," said Rutanen. "There's never a boring day here in terms of hearing what people want to do with this technology."
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