HID Global, Mist Systems Bring BLE to RTLS Deployments

By Claire Swedberg

A partnership between the two companies provides an open standard-based RTLS solution, while HID Global is also releasing a new BLE badge beacon that hospitals and other businesses can use for duress alerts.

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HID Global is growing its Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)-based solutions in the form of a new tool offering: its BEEKs Duress Badge Beacon, which transmits BLE signals. The company is partnering with Mist Systems, a wireless network solutions company that converges BLE and Wi-Fi technologies for wayfinding, asset management and other location- and Internet of Things (IoT)-based systems. HID Global offers its location services under the brand name HID Location Services.

HID Global and Mist Systems are targeting an audience that is increasingly seeking open standards for real-time location system (RTLS) solutions, says Rom Eizenberg, HID Global’s Bluvision business VP. As an alternative to proprietary solutions leveraging Wi-Fi or other technologies used to capture RTLS data, the companies are employing BLE technology for an open-standard solution with a low cost of entry.

The BEEKs Duress Badge Beacon

HID Global is releasing its new product to compete with existing RTLS solution providers that, in many cases, sell tags and receivers at a relatively high cost. For solutions that offer proprietary RFID, ultrasound or other technologies, Eizenberg explains, users are typically locked into buying systems from a single vendor. HID Global has a different approach, he notes, as it enables users to mix and match the technologies they use in an RTLS deployment. With other companies, he says, the typical approach is, “‘If you don’t like our sensors or software, then buy something else.’ With our solution, the customer retains the power.”

HID Global’s products are intended to be lower in cost than traditional RTLS technologies. Typically, the firm charges about $10 for an asset tag and $20 for a personnel badge with a lifespan of up to four years. The BEEKs Duress Badge Beacon was designed to offer users in the health-care or caregiver market a wireless tool for making an emergency call when under duress; however, it can operate in a variety of other markets as well, including retail, manufacturing and hospitality. An individual wearing the device can simply press the duress button if he or she feels unsafe, which transmits an alert to BLE receivers that identify who is placing the call and that person’s location, then forwards the alert to the appropriate parties, such as security guards.

The BEEKs badge product line, the company reports, is part of its IoT location services platform, which is designed to bring multiple functions to a single device. While many hospital workers might carry three or more badges (one for access control, another for duress and a third for hand sanitation), the HID Location Services platform makes it possible to offer all three functions in the same badge. “Access-control badges are a core business for HID Global,” Eizenberg says, “and our BLE-powered HID Location Services offering marries all three badges into a single device.”

The BEEKs BLE beacon can be employed by itself or integrated into access-control cards already in use. Additionally, hand-hygiene functionality and other RTLS capabilities can be added to the badge as needed over time.

The HID Location Services system is already being deployed in large-scale, the company reports, in health care and other vertical markets. At least one of North America’s top five hospitals has been using the triple-functionality (duress, access control and hand-hygiene) badge throughout its facility since the beginning of this year, the firm notes. (The hospital has asked to remain unnamed.) By end of 2019, he predicts, 1,000 medical facilities will be using the badge system.

HID Global’s Rom Eizenberg

Mist Systems offers what it calls self-learning wireless networks, powered by artificial intelligence (AI). In addition, Mist is the first vendor to bring enterprise-grade Wi-Fi, BLE and IoT technologies together to deliver personalized, location-based wireless services without requiring battery-powered beacons, according to Sunalini Sankhavaram, Mist’s location service product manager. The firm’s solutions consist of Wi-Fi-based access points that utilize BLE to provide greater location accuracy.

The technology was designed to improve on the BLE solutions being deployed for wayfinding and location-based content for consumers, Sankhavaram explains. Too often, she says, BLE deployments in the past could not be installed at a large scale. “The challenges of deploying a battery-based Bluetooth network,” when thousands of devices are needed, is unrealistic, she says. Too often, beacons need to be manually checked for battery power, and to ensure that they are located where they should be. The question that Mist’s founders asked, according to Sankhavaram, was “How can we make BLE infrastructure easy to deploy, easy to maintain and easy to scale?” Mist concluded that it needed to “virtualize beacons to eliminate batteries,” she states.

Mist Systems was launched in 2014 and started shipping in 2016, to provide for the wide-scale adoption of BLE systems, Sankhavaram says. She notes that by building BLE functionality into a Wi-Fi infrastructure, the company can monitor a beacon’s health to ensure that it is always in good operational condition, while also enabling a modular approach for Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as BLE-based RTLS and IoT capabilities with sensor data. The company offers the software required to manage the collected data, including what it calls its “AI-powered platform, network-delivering asset-visibility services.” The software captures information from the device, she explains, then feeds it into Mist’s machine-learning engine.

A Mist Systems deployment aims to provide wayfinding and mobile engagement without battery-powered beacons. BLE beacon tags from HID Global or another partner, in the form of either badges, asset tags or hand-sanitizer tags, transmit an iBeacon or Eddystone signal that is captured by the BLE radios in Mist’s devices. Those devices then forward the data via Wi-Fi to Mist’s cloud-based platform, in which software identifies a tag’s location within a zone, such as in a hospital patient room.

According to the company, the system has the flexibility to create more location granularity—or less, depending on a user’s needs. For instance, public areas, such as a lobby or hallway, may require little specific location management, and thus fewer BLE beacons would be needed to capture tag data. In other cases, however, additional BLE-only beacons could be installed and be cabled to Mist’s own access points in order to allow for greater granularity. HID Global also makes small battery-powered BLE units that plug into a hand-sanitizer dispenser to monitor workers’ hand-hygiene compliance.

Mist’s Sunalini Sankhavaram

At present, Eizenberg says, HID Global delivers BLE data linked to a mobile phone or tablet of a health-care employee or other worker, providing indoor navigation or other location-based services. “When people ask me what use cases intrigue [me],” he states, “my answer is that it’s about what I can’t even imagine yet: reducing barriers to entry and making real-time location pervasive and available to any developer, with no need for complex integration. [This] opens the door for rapid innovation.”

Mist works with a large ecosystem of partners, Sankhavaram says, including HID Global and its Bluvision technology. It provides location-based data and partners with companies that can provide apps, such as mapping for wayfinding purposes. The Mist technology has been deployed at three Fortune 10 companies, she reports, as well as at multiple other businesses that include health-care facilities, hospitality firms, office buildings, large retailers and manufacturers, for the purpose of tracking work-in-progress. Companies are also capturing sensor data via temperature-, humidity- or motion-sensing devices that can be plugged directly into the Mist access points, leveraging the built-in IoT port.

Some customers are replacing their existing Wi-Fi technology with Mist’s AI-powered, cloud-based, Wi-Fi BLE infrastructure, Sankhavaram reports, while others are adding the access points to their existing hardware, in order to capture and manage location- or sensor-based data. “We are seeing BLE become almost like a de facto open standard-based platform that can plug into various use cases and move into the IoT space,” she says. “That makes the solution very powerful.”