Indoor Positioning Solutions Guide for the Enterprise
Today's blog is the first of a series intended to provide Enterprises with: (a) an overview of the major approaches and the best solutions for Indoor Positioning ; and (b) important considerations when evaluating your needs and plan for indoor positioning. Readers interested in a more detailed understanding and discussion may wish to contact us for a consultation and evaluation.
The Inflection Point is Rapidly Approaching for Indoor Positioning
As a company dedicated to Indoor Navigation and Location-based Services, Connexient keeps a close eye on anything involving indoor positioning. We made an early and conscious decision not to get involved in the race to perfect solutions in this area - not because it was not important, but rather because there were plenty of companies both large and small with deep expertise and resources already working on the problem.
The last couple of quarters have seen two developments that represent quantum leaps forward for indoor positioning.
1. The embrace of BLE by both Apple and Google
With the release and characteristically effective promotion of its iBeacon standard, Apple made BLE legitimate and highlighted its strengths. After some further assessment, Google followed suit and has also now fully embraced BLE support in Android 4.2 and 4.3 (JellyBean).
The key impact of this is now highly accurate, handset-based indoor positioning solutions are available across both iOs and Android. Moreover, Apple iBeacons are seeing rapid adoption and acceptance in retail, which should put to rest any concerns from other Enterprise verticals.
2. Apple’s Integration of Indoor Positioning into iOs 8.0
Apple announced at their WWDC earlier this year that its own Indoor Positioning technology is now built in to iOs 8.0. This uses handset sensor-fusion technology - with no BLE beacons - from a company called WiFiSlam, which Apple purchased in 2013. We tested WiFiSlam back then and and found it to be quite solid, so it will be very interesting to see how it performs! While we still believe beacons are part of the reliable solution, the widespread availability of at least baseline indoor positioning in iOs 8 will in our view greatly accelerate user interest in and demand for indoor positioning and location-based services.
3. Cisco's roadmap for Mobility Services Engine (MSE)
Over the last year, we have been privileged to work closely with Cisco in several different pilots and gain an understanding of their current capabilities as well as their roadmap for the Indoor Positioning performance of Cisco MSE, which is part of the Cisco CMX (Connected Mobile Experiences) platform. Without disclosing any details, which are confidential, what we can tell you is that starting with the just released MSE version 8.0, Cisco is rolling out a credible, comprehensive path over the next 12 - 18 months that will deliver highly accurate and low latency (i.e. high refresh rates) indoor positioning. This will be a true Enterprise solution for not only Indoor Navigation, but the entire range of Indoor location-based services that will drive value and ROI.
We believe that these three waves of innovation will mark the inflection point in the market for the widespread adoption of Enterprise Indoor Location-based Services.
Needless to say, we find that to be quite exciting!
Overview of Indoor Positioning Technologies
There are four basic approaches to solving the problem of indoor positioning that have been improving and evolving rapidly - and now starting to converge - over the last several years.
1. WiFi Fingerprinting
A software only, device-based approach that reads the digital signatures of the WiFi network.
Pros: Device-based software only, low cost, easy to calibrate.
Cons: Simply not accurate or reliable enough.
2. Bluetooth Low Energy Beacons / iBeacons
Simple, low-cost transmitters (“beacons”) that can be placed around a venue. Application software on the device and then be programmed to read these signals to drive a wide range of user interactions and engagement.
Pros: Low-cost and maintenance, standard embraced by Apple and now Google.
Cons: Beacon infrastructure to maintain, not suitable on their own for wayfinding or navigation.
3. Handset Sensor Fusion
This involves accessing data from multiple sensors on the phone such as the compass, gyroscope - in addition to WiFi fingerprinting and/or BLE Beacons - and applying sophisticated algorithms and techniques to "fuse" these together into an optimal estimate of the device's position.
Pros: Device-based software only, low cost, easy to calibrate.
Cons: Good for some use cases but not reliable enough on its own for indoor navigation.
4. Cisco Mobility Services Engine (MSE). A network-based approach that leverages an array of techniques to position all devices connecting or visible to the network, not just smartphones.
Pros: A true Enterprise solution, addressing infrastructure security and management..
Cons: Accuracy and refresh rates currently suitable only for some use cases.
Up until recently, these were each separate technologies and strategies for Indoor Positioning. Now they are starting to converge - or at least be used in combination when needed.
Which Solution is Best for Indoor LBS?
Well, that depends! The answer depends on your organizations needs and objectives for Indoor Location-based Services. Connexient develops applications and use cases for Digital Wayfinding and Indoor Navigation that require strong indoor positioning performance, so we will focus there. Why? Because these are where the most value for the end user and the highest ROI for the Enterprise can be found.
Let’s start with defining the three levels of indoor positioning quality that are relevant to our solutions.
Location-Enhanced Wayfinding. We define this as a solution that can answer the basic question: Where am I? It must do this accurately and quickly enough to be actionable - i.e. a user actively navigating a venue can make useful decisions.
Location-Enhanced Routing. Here the indoor positioning accuracy and refresh rates are sufficient to be dynamically integrated into route visualization and we can start to actively guide the prompt user actions based on their position and let them know when they are off track.
Indoor Navigation. Indoor Navigation is, of course, our Holy Grail. This requires an very high level of accuracy and refresh for indoor location to support 3 key capabilities:
driving the route visualization - i.e. the camera view of the route;
anticipating and prompting for upcoming turns; and
providing audio prompts and/or voice direction of navigation.
Our Take on Indoor Positioning Technologies
Over the last several years, we’ve been fortunate to have tested all of these various solutions in one way or another, including now in several pilots integrating them with our application. At the end of the day, there are in our view two viable solutions today, with a hybrid, step-by-step approach being the best for Enterprise clients.
Here’s the what and why.
1. Handset-based Sensor Fusion + BLE Beacons
While iBeacons are fine for proximity-based interactions and engagement - whose use cases tend to fit better in retail environments - they are not suitable on their own for wayfinding or navigation. For that, the additional capability of handset sensor fusion is critical to providing continuous accurate and reliable positioning. The good news is this combined approach, in our testing, is yielding outstanding positioning performance.
- High accuracy & refresh rates: 1 - 2 Meters, sub-second refresh frequency
- Flexible: Can work with WiFi Fingerprinting alone for Android and without any outside inputs where there are gaps in either WiFi or BLE Beacon coverage.
- Relatively Low Cost:
- About $50 - $70 per beacon.
- Annual license fees in addition to Beacon deployment.
- Easy to install: Beacons are about the size of a matchbox
- Easy to Calibrate: Literally a few hours to a few days depending on the size of the facility.
- Easy to maintain: Between 2 - 5 year battery life.Easy to integrate: both Senion and Polestar have excellent SDKs
- Really must have BLE Beacons to maintain consistent accuracy.
- In effect a new wireless network to manage
- Short range - about 20 to 40 meters maximum
- Low energy: will not penetrate walls, metal, etc.
The Bottom Line
BLE Beacons combined with Handset-based Sensor Fusion is the most accurate, reliable and robust technology solution for Indoor Navigation quality indoor positioning available today - so long as you only need to position smartphones and tablets.
2. Cisco Mobility Services Engine (MSE)
Cisco MSE, which is part of the Cisco CMX platform, brings an entirely different, network-based approach to indoor positioning. This is not surprising, of course, since Cisco powers that network. While the current performance of MSE is not comparable to Sensor Fusion + BLE, there are important advantages to this approach for Enterprise clients, which we will discuss further below.
Even more importantly:
the latest MSE 8.0 release - with FastLocate module add-on for 3600 and 3700 APs - is now sufficient for Location-Enhanced Wayfinding;
Cisco is rapidly improving the indoor positioning performance of MSE over the next 12 to 18 months to get to true Indoor Navigation capability; and
Enterprise clients can supplement Cisco MSE today with Handset Sensor Fusion + BLE to get Indoor Navigation quality wayfinding today.
Here are the key data points.
- MSE v. 8.0
- 3600 or 3700 Series APs
- Associated requirements for PI (Prime Infrastucture) version
- Enterprise Solution: Cisco has and continues to think through and address all the broader Enterprise IT issues of wireless network management, including:
- Device / Tag management
- Minimizing or eliminating Interference
- Unified Management
- Improving Rapidly: Cisco has laid out a credible and compelling roadmap to rapidly improve indoor positioning - which will include BLE - to accuracy and refresh rates suitable for Indoor Navigation and all other Indoor LBS use cases.
- Trusted partner: Organizations can rely on Cisco to deliver Enterprise-grade solutions that address infrastructure management and security.
- Accuracy: 5 - 7 meters - not suitable for indoor navigation, but very useful for Location-Enhanced Wayfinding.
- Latency: Starting with MSE 8.0, notifications and refresh rates can be reduced to approximately 10 seconds.
- Deployment: Requires high AP density and accuracy is highly dependent on the right density, location, calibration and other factors.
- Cost: More expensive than BLE solution - but depends on what AP's and coverage are already in place.
The Bottom Line
- Starting with MSE v. 8.0, Cisco CMX is a real option for Enterprise’s seeking to deploy Indoor Positioning solutions for Location-Enhanced Wayfinding.
- Enterprises that want navigation-quality indoor positioning today should supplement their current Cisco WiFi and MSE infrastructure with Handset-based Sensor Fusion plus BLE Beacons.
- Enterprises alternatively can:
- lay the foundation and address user needs now with stand-alone Indoor Mapping and Digital Wayfinding; and
- plan their Indoor LBS infrastructure around the Cisco MSE roadmap - starting with MSE 8.0 and 3600 or 3700 Series APs.
Readers that are interested in more information on how BLE Beacons can complement Cisco MSE may be interested to review this blog and other resources on Cisco.com.
How to Get Started
So the great news is that any Enterprise which wants to provide anything from Location-Enhanced Wayfinding to true Indoor Navigation can do so right now! Absolutely, there are considerations and decisions to weigh, and deployments should be carefully planned. But there are no barriers to starting to leverage Indoor Positioning right now to:
provide a great Patient Experience;
improve operational efficiency; and
reduce lost revenues.
For an evaluation and consultation on the best Indoor Positioning solution options for your Enterprise, please contact us.