2013 Will See Significant Developments in High-Accuracy Wireless Location

Feb 20, 2013

2013 Will See Significant Developments in High-Accuracy Wireless Location

In 2012, there was a strong shift in demand for high-accuracy wireless location, given the proliferation of smartphones and indoor coverage using distributed antenna systems (DAS), metro cells, femtocells, and other indoor-centric technologies. This demand came from both emergency callers, for whom accurate location is a life or death matter, and commercial location-based services providers, who require accurate location for location-based advertising and mobile marketing. Additionally, government agencies increasingly relied more on accurate mass location (the ability to locate all mobile devices in a given area) to better target suspects and increase the efficiency of law enforcement field agents. This is especially significant given constrained budgets and the need for technology to fill the gap. I expect these trends to continue in 2013, a year in which I predict an expansion of wireless location solutions based on several drivers:

Breakthroughs in indoor location will be driven by regulatory agencies. Sources cite many statistics to illustrate that we depend on mobile devices to operate in all environments. Late last year, a group of vendors participating in a groundbreaking indoor location technology market trial organized by the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) advisory committee, the Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC). The trial took place from November 15 through December 31, 2012 in urban, suburban, and rural communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Polaris Wireless is the only network-based location technology provider that was tested in indoor environments, with simultaneous testing of indoor location technologies from three other companies: Qualcomm, Boeing, and NextNav. CSRIC’s goal is to identify technologies that can be deployed to enable PSAP’s (Public Safety Answering Points) to quickly and accurately locate emergency callers. Results are being analyzed and I will provide more detail in future columns. I fully expect this effort by CSRIC to result in more accurate tracking and location of emergency callers, helping to save lives.

Public safety demand will spur new location application and technology development. As high-accuracy location becomes increasingly important for emergency call first responders, it will also be utilized for other public safety scenarios, such as disaster preparedness and recovery. Hurricane Sandy once again highlighted the vital need for a high-accuracy wireless location system, deployed prior to a natural disaster, which could prove instrumental in helping authorities to alert citizens, locate victims and survivors, and to help save lives. Prior to a disaster, the local police or public safety agency can create a geo-fence around the area in danger and identify all mobile devices. This information can be used to warn people via text or e-mail alert, and also to establish a record of who was in a given area for post-disaster search efforts. Post-event mass location analytics enables authorities to trace mobile subscribers to see who may have been impacted, and assign first responder resources more efficiently. By enabling a historical snapshot of all mobile devices in the impacted area, authorities can facilitate search and rescue even if the wireless network has been made inoperable after the storm hits.

Wireless operators will announce new high-accuracy location capabilities into their networks. As they evolve their networks to 4G LTE, many operators will deploy more robust location capabilities including the standards-based location method called RF Pattern Matching. While traditional Cell ID and GPS methods have been used by network operators in the past, the advanced safety and consumer applications of the future require a more granular degree of accuracy that is reliable both indoors and in dense urban areas. In the case of public safety, law enforcement agencies require a location technology that is not able to be tampered with, as GPS chipsets in the handset often are. Enabling high-accuracy location network-wide provides economies of scale for applications providers who want to reach a broad audience. High accuracy location enabled analytics – combining  a wireless subscriber’s location with other information such as home and work addresses, types of applications downloaded, and other data creates a highly-detailed, high-value trove of data that companies would be willing to pay a premium to acquire, if it is productized correctly, while balancing privacy concerns. Operators will increasingly consider these new business models, enabled by high accuracy location, in 2013.

My predictions underscore the expanding importance of high-accuracy location across all industries and applications. Location information is now table stakes, and, through opt-in and other safeguards, has largely overcome privacy concerns that were at the forefront a few years ago. Consumers now see the value in allowing their location to be used in ways that benefit them – ranging from coupons and other contextual commerce to lifesaving applications by public safety agencies. High accuracy location is here to stay and will only become more accurate and more widespread in 2013.

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