It’s that time of year again, when CEOs pull out their crystal balls to predict what will happen in our respective industries in the coming year. I won’t pretend that all my past prognostications have exactly come true, but I do take pride in the fact that the location-technology industry is constantly changing in reaction to new technology, government regulation and consumer demand.
This can make it difficult to predict what will be happening next week, never mind over the next 12 months. With this in mind, I see many exciting things unfolding in 2019 that will significantly impact how the public-safety sector, commercial industries and consumers use location technology. Here are a few:
With the ongoing advances in detecting devices indoors with high accuracy and across three dimensions, I predict that 3D indoor location will come into its own next year.
This is a case of “If you build it, they will come,” because location-technology leaders have improved the means and lowered the cost of useable indoor-location solutions, while Apple and Google continue to put out increasingly sophisticated devices capable of transmitting and receiving signals that help create a more precise location footprint.
The spread of indoor beacons and high-sensitivity sensors, combined with still-emerging sophisticated indoor maps, will enable indoor navigation and tracking for a variety of applications, increasing the effectiveness of public-safety agencies and enabling enterprises to improve workforce productivity and safety.
Software-based hybrid technology is providing first responders with increasingly accurate location to locate emergency callers. This so-called “door to kick in” is made possible by advances in barometric positioning, which even works in tall buildings. In fact, the FCC is planning to decide on a metric for vertical location for E911 by early 2019.
Commercial applications also will take advantage of this capability. For example, a hotel chain will deploy 3D location across its high-rise properties to monitor employees, ensuring that their personnel are safe and allocated efficiently to best serve customers. Theme parks are another potential user of this capability in the hospitality sector, while the energy sector will use this in mines and oilfields to improve workforce safety.
Once application developers see the potential revenue in these applications, the variety of use cases will grow exponentially.
I predict that we will see sustained efforts by grassroots community organizations to influence local, state, and federal governments to put tax dollars to work by investing in location technology to keep people safe. This trend began this past year in the wake of the Parkland school shooting, when students and their families organized marches, rallies, and media blitzes to promote increased gun control, and lawmakers listened.
We have also seen leaders in states impacted by natural disaster—for example, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper—call for robust increases in public-safety funding. There is recent concern that E911 fees are being misused or re-allocated for other purposes. Emboldened by this, and with a receptive Democratic House of Representatives being seated next year, I see calls for investment in location technology increasing, which could provide real benefits to the public quickly.
High-accuracy location technology provides additional tools for first responders in a highly-intense environment, such as a mass shooting or natural disaster. Police could locate emergency callers quicker and more accurately. Location technology also enables “blueforce” tracking, enabling the monitoring of the police, fire and EMS personnel to help ensure their safety and dispatch them more quickly to emergencies, something these groups have said they want.
Once in place, first responders could use location technology to create a detailed heatmap of all wireless devices in the emergency area, reducing the time it takes to locate potential victims. The public is demanding that first responders utilize all available tools to ensure their safety, and location technology will continue to prove its usefulness during the next year.
Another benefit of increased location technology accuracy is that wireless network providers and device companies generate a massive amount of user location intelligence, which is available to businesses that use that data to market goods and services back to those same users.
Most of us are comfortable with this tradeoff, because we like the convenience of receiving personalized offers and discounts on things we like to buy—we “opt in” to sharing our location via our wireless devices. As this location information gets more accurate and produces more detailed location intelligence, I predict that location intelligence will generate additional business opportunities and improve the consumer experience.
As location tracking becomes more pervasive, consumers’ data privacy will be protected through sensible regulation such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GPDR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018. These rules give consumers the right to see what information businesses collect on them, including location information, where their information has been sold, and to demand that it stops, if desired. Most importantly, businesses can no longer deny service to consumers that “opt out” of having their data collected and sold. I believe this is a fair trade-off between convenience and privacy and expect that other states will follow the lead set by the European Union and California.
3D indoor location, public safety spending, and location intelligence are just three areas where I expect there to be significant changes occurring in 2019. As the year unfolds, I expect developments in these areas to spawn even more change in the industry in a never-ending cycle.
In the end, the one prediction I know will come true is that, 12 months from now, the location-technology industry will be in a very different place than it is today. I look forward to checking in at that time to see how well my crystal ball worked!
Manlio Allegra is CEO of California-based Polaris Wireless, a provider of software-based wireless location solutions.