What’s Next For Location-Based Services?
So far, we’ve discussed the technologies and markets driving location-based services (LBS), and it’s pretty clear that we have everything we need for this opportunity to really take off. And, of course, since today it really is all about the apps, application developers are certain to amaze us with a slew of advances over the next few years.
But success with LBS isn’t about sitting back and waiting for these new capabilities, and there are a number of steps that network and IT management should be taking today to assure that LBS operation is seamless, effective, efficient, and, well – optimal.
The first stop on this journey is to review the design of your current Wi-Fi infrastructure. Location and tracking, and thus LBS, benefit from a denser deployment of APs, one that optimizes for capacity over coverage alone. There’s an additional benefit here, of course: not only is location accuracy improved, but users will experience higher throughput and lower latency for their network traffic in the bargain.
If you go the BLE beacon route, a bit more planning will be required, as the range of beacons is really quite limited. Plan on adding (perhaps many) additional beacons over time and as usage may dictate, and the number of beacons will ultimately be a function of desired resolution and the number and the physical structure and layout of your facility.
Next, review your management capabilities. Effective location and tracking are available in some Wi-Fi infrastructure products (we noted Aerohive as a player here earlier), and a number of third-party solutions are also available. In both cases, carefully review management capabilities for functionality, ease-of-use, and integration with other operational systems as required.
Some products required a lengthy and detailed calibration process which can add cost and which may require updating as building layout evolves. The emerging trend of Cloud-based management, which we recommend by default in all but the most highly-regulated environments, can really benefit LBS deployments, so look for LBS management systems that can be deployed in the Cloud. And, as always, have scalability, cost-effectiveness (for both capital and operating costs), and resilience as key checklist items.
Another capability to look for is an application programming interface (API) for location/tracking and LBS systems. These usually aren’t very complex, but having them available enables the ability to develop custom and customizable solutions that precisely fit local needs and which can evolve as these needs change.
Next, make sure your operational and especially end-user policies and agreements are up to date. The basics here include BYOD, acceptable use, and security policies, and an end-user agreement that specifies what’s required of users and their devices for access to the organizational network.
With respect to LBS, it’s important to note that the network will be able to track individual users via their mobile devices, and this information may be available according to policy to various individuals throughout the organization. Most people will not have a problem with this, but making sure everyone is informed as to exactly what information is collected and why, and how this information is secured and used, is essentially vital today, especially where local regulations (e.g., the European Union) require such. And some people, such as healthcare workers, will simply have to accept their tracking as a vital element of the LBS provided to clients and customers.
And, finally, the technology behind LBS is continuing to evolve. While the signal-strength technique can be very effective, it’s hardly optimal. A new Working Group, 802.11az, within the IEEE 802.11 organization that develops standards for wireless LANs that ultimately become for the basis for Wi-Fi specifications, is developing a location and tracking technology that is based on the round-trip timing of signals between APs and clients.
The value of this technique has been proven at MIT and other academic institutions, so we’re expecting great things here by around 2020. The battle between the Wi-Fi and BLE beacons communities will also continue, but both solutions, properly designed, configured, deployed, and managed, anyway, will remain valid. We expect that hybrid solutions using both technologies will constitute a significant percentage of operational LBS solutions going forward.
So, will LBS become essential in almost every industry and venue? Yes – such is very, very likely today. LBS is in fact already well on the way to the transparency and ubiquity that Wi-Fi itself has achieved.
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