Navizon’s Cloud-based RTLS Service Tracks Wi-Fi Tags, Devices

By Claire Swedberg

The company's I.T.S. solution is designed to help users monitor the locations of people and assets indoors, via nodes that read Wi-Fi transmissions from smartphones, laptops and RFID tags.

Navizon, a real-time location system (RTLS) technology provider based in Miami, Fla., has begun marketing a service to track the locations of Wi-Fi-based active RFID tags, or any other Wi-Fi-enabled devices within a facility, ranging from a warehouse to a convention hall, apartment building or mall. The service, known as the Navizon Indoor Triangulation System (I.T.S.), is currently being tested by several businesses, including a casino and a mall.

Navizon initially opened shop to provide a global positioning system (GPS) known as Navizon One, which provides cell-phone users with access to such features as a buddy finder and Google Maps, by calculating a mobile phone's location via GPS, and then providing location-based data to that phone's user.

Navizon's Cyril Houri

Last year, the company developed I.T.S. as an extension to Navizon One. I.T.S. employs Wi-Fi reader nodes to determine the locations of Wi-Fi-enabled RFID tags, smartphones, laptops, tablets or other devices that transmit a unique identifier via a Wi-Fi signal.

For a monthly fee of typically less than $1,000, a user can set up a building with nodes and access the service, says Cyril Houri, Navizon's CEO, for applications that could include access control within a commercial building, security systems for tracking assets, or the movements of individuals such as maintenance workers or members of the public.

A company first purchases reader nodes (using an order form available at the Navizon Web site), and installs them approximately 100 feet apart, plugged into wall outlets. One node must be plugged into an Internet connection and serves as the gateway, while others form a mesh network that forward their transmission data back to the Internet via that gateway. The user can log onto the Access Navizon I.T.S. Web site and upload a floor plan of its facility. The nodes receive unique identifiers transmitted from each RFID tag or other Wi-Fi device within their read range, and forward that data via the gateway to a cloud-based server hosted by Navizon. When the I.T.S. customer logs onto Navizon's Web site, Houri says, a map of the facility appears, containing icons indicating each wireless device's location.

For Navizon customers looking to track assets or individuals via RFID tags, the company recommends active RFID tags provided by Redpine Signals, though other makes and models of Wi-Fi tags would work as well, Houri says. The solution, he adds, is intended to provide an affordable alternative to active Wi-Fi-based tracking systems currently offered by RTLS companies for hospitals or other use cases. Navizon hopes to reach a broader market with its less-expensive solution.

Smartphones, laptops and other Wi-Fi devices must be powered on in order to be detected by the nodes, but the devices themselves do not require that an application be loaded onto them before they can be tracked. Once a transmission is received from a phone, laptop or tag, the node sends that data to the cloud-based server via the gateway.

Upon first installing the system, an operator logs onto the server, sets up a password and user ID, identifies each node's ID number and enters its physical location. The user can also upload a floor plan, enabling the use of icons on that plan indicating where Wi-Fi transmissions have been detected. He or she can then access real-time information by logging onto the server at any time, or collect data for analytics, such as determining the amount of foot traffic within particular areas of the building, as well as when this occurred. In addition, the system can be set up to issue alarms in the event that a tag or mobile device enters an area deemed off-limits.

Each personal device's identifier is not automatically linked to the individual using that item, but operators can also link specific individuals' IDs to their smartphones and other personal Wi-Fi-enabled devices, with their permission, so that they can be individually tracked. For example, security guards, maintenance workers, doctors or patients could be monitored while moving around a facility, in order to identify their locations and thus enable building managers or other users to make decisions or detect problems based on those movements. If an individual not authorized to enter a specific area were to do so, for instance, an alert could be triggered.

The system is presently being trialed by several companies globally that have asked to remain unnamed, Houri says. One end user, a casino, is attaching Redpine tags to containers of cash. In that way, the casino knows the locations of cash-filled suitcases in real time. In another case, a mall is monitoring the movements of shoppers. Other potential users include an apartment-building manager who could use the system to detect the presence of unauthorized Wi-Fi devices in use within the premises. Malls could also utilize the solution to track which areas experience the greatest traffic from shoppers, as well as which are underutilized. Additionally, conference managers could install the system to determine the popularity of specific booths, as well as track traffic flows and bottlenecks.

Until next week, Navizon is charging $60 for the purchase of each node, plus a monthly fee of $250 per site and $25 per node to access the cloud-based service. Houri expects that price to rise once the introductory period ends next week, but says the company's goal is to continue offering the service for less than $1,000 per month for most deployments.

End users continue to develop new use cases for the technology, Houri says. "Each phone call that comes in generates new ways to use the system," he states.

The technology also would work with a user's existing Wi-Fi nodes, Houri says, such as a Cisco Systems network. He notes, however, that Navizon's reader nodes, specifically designed for location purposes, provide greater accuracy, with location granularity of within about 10 feet.