Total Cost of RTLS Ownership

By Ygal Bendavid and Harold Boeck

Several active and passive real-time location systems may meet your needs, so it's best to evaluate your options solution by solution.

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In our previous column, An RTLS Self-Exam, we suggested a set of questions hospital managers should ask when selecting an RFID-based real-time location system. Once you’ve defined your business and technology requirements and issued a call for tender, you’ll likely receive proposals from providers of both active and passive RTLS solutions.

We acknowledged that total cost of ownership can vary greatly between these kinds of systems. Moreover, TCO can vary among the different passive systems—not only those that use traditional reader portals in doorways, hallways and other choke points, but also newer systems that feature phased-array antennas for zone monitoring. So rather than compare active versus passive systems, we recommend you assess the options on a solution-by-solution basis, taking into account the stages of an RTLS project life cycle.

Procurement. Vendor proposals typically include detailed costs of individual components and consultants, but the project costs are based on similar deployments. Ask what and how many resources—equipment and people—your deployment will require.

Active tags are more expensive than passive tags, but some passive systems may demand more readers and antennas. Ask how many readers and antennas and, perhaps, beacons or exciters you’ll need to provide the location accuracy and tag-detection immediacy required for your business case.

In addition, look into software license fees; some providers charge based on how many tags you’ll need and others on the number of users per year. One solution could be more expensive to acquire but cheaper to maintain.

Implementation. What is the cost of deploying the system? In addition to considering cable placement and other installation issues, ask about the implementation plan. Active systems typically require a great amount of time to calibrate and test for location accuracy. The plan should also include the cost of configuring and integrating the software platform.

Maintenance. The batteries in active tags must be changed periodically. Do the tags have a sleep mode or other feature to reduce battery consumption? What’s involved in monitoring all the readers in a passive system?

Future plans. As suggested in our column To RTLS or Not to RTLS, you’ve prioritized your use cases and determined which to address first. But you need to know what will be involved—and what it will cost—to address the other use cases on your list. When you know the specific costs of the active and passive RTLS solutions that meet your needs, you’ll be able to make a smart business decision.

Ygal Bendavid and Harold Boeck are professors in the school of management at the Université du Québec à Montréal, and members of RFID Academia‘s research board.