Real-time Location Based Services: Four Predictions for 2019

By Fabio Belloni

This year will bring larger-scale rollouts, new market players, a growing number of partnerships, higher precision levels and broader interoperability among technologies.

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Location-based services (LBS) applications enabled by real-time location systems (RTLS) made great strides in 2018, with a wide variety of industries—in vertical markets ranging from manufacturing and logistics to sports to security—with each segment benefitting and deriving real business value from new applications powered by location-based data.

This year will see the LBS industry continue its momentum as a key sector that is not only growing (Research and Markets valued the RTLS market at more than $1.7 billion in 2017, and forecasted that it will rise to $13 billion by 2026), but also becoming increasingly sophisticated. Here is what I predict for the 2019 LBS and RTLS markets:

1) Organizations Will Scale RTLS Deployments to the Next Level
Although there are many examples of larger-scale RTLS deployments, most organizations, to date, have been testing systems on a smaller scale, capturing successes and then determining how to make a business case for a larger-scale deployment. In 2019, they’ll have resolved the business case questions and begun rollouts of larger deployments. This will occur across several vertical markets, most notably manufacturing, transportation, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), smart buildings and others.

This growth is being spurred by advancements in three key areas:
• The wide availability of low-cost tags and sensors
• The sophistication of the sensing and connectivity capabilities in devices that do not impact battery life
• The advent of open ecosystems that enable organizations to build more flexible business models without locking them into hardware or software

2) Vendors Will Cross-Pollinate Technologies to Deliver Potent LBS Applications
Established RTLS vendors are moving away from closed solution offerings, opening up the application layer and incorporating best-in-breed components. One example of this cross-pollination is between ultra-wideband (UWB) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) vendors. A second is indoor-outdoor solutions (such as airports, for example), for which BLE plus angle-of-arrival (AoA) and GPS is a common request.

A third example of cross-pollination is that established BLE beacon vendors (providing devices for enabling BLE proximity with mobile phones) are finding new life for their hardware devices by extending their firmware functionalities. For example, companies can now enter a new market utilizing the same hardware, including both beacons and tags—for instance, a device mounted on a mobile platform which allows for high-accuracy BLE (using AoA) positioning and carrying a number of sensors for remote monitoring of the object status or environment conditions.

3) Mobile Operators Will Have a Seat at the LBS Table
RTLS deployments and LBS applications, to date, have largely been an enterprise play, with all but a handful of service providers being left on the sidelines. Mobile operators have historically toiled to be more relevant in the enterprise, trying to monetize business solutions to their customers to solve business problems. As their IoT savvy grows, the ability to offer RTLS-based services and solutions allows them to provide the value enterprises desperately need.

However, there are three keys the enterprise market demands:
• The solutions they provide need to be open—no software lock-ins, an open SDK and an open hardware design for tag development.
• They must support the tracking of both physical tags and smartphones by the same system.
• Solutions must be scalable, robust and reliable.

Offerings that deliver on all three of these keys will pave the way to success in the enterprise market.

4) Location Accuracy Will Drive New Applications
Accuracy in the RTLS sense can be defined as a combination of precision and time (latency). The precision levels required to locate a person or object depends on the application itself. Some applications, such as tracking a large container within a shipyard, may require accuracy within 3 to 5 meters (9.8 to 16.4 feet). Others, such as the tracking of movements of athletes or objects like pucks or tennis balls, may require accuracy at the centimeter level.

Delay, or latency, is another factor in RTLS precision. Not every LBS application requires real-time precision; moving heavy equipment may require location data every minute or two, whereas a 300-millisecond delay is too much for tracking a sports ball. Organizations will determine what their requirements are for real-time location, based on the specific applications they are developing, and advancements in precision will open new doors to a wealth of new applications.

The LBS market demands new levels of openness and interoperability to enable new applications that are widely adopted by both consumers and enterprises. In 2019, we’ll see more partnerships, broader interoperability of technologies and solutions, larger-scale rollouts, higher levels of precision and new market players, with the end result of driving real business value across markets and organizations.

Fabio Belloni, the chief customer officer and cofounder of Quuppa, is focused on accelerating the success of the company’s partner companies. He is a frequent contributor and the author or co-author of numerous academic papers, and has several granted patents and pending patent applications.