FAQ - Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS)
Why doesn't GPS work inside buildings?
Can you build location aware mobile applications?
What is the impact of GDPR on Location Tracking Systems? (coming soon)
- What is the best Indoor Positioning System? (coming soon)
What is an Indoor Positioning System?
An indoor positioning system (IPS) is also referred to as an Indoor Location System or an Indoor Navigation System. Its used to determine a devices location inside a building or built up area. If that device happens to be a mobile phone, laptop or wearable device then you know know where the owner of the device.
Explained simply, its GPS but with a roof over your head. You might be wondering why people don't just use GPS unfortunately GPS does not work indoors.
This means that one of the best benefits of having an IPS is not getting lost in large complex places like shopping centers, airports and stadiums.
Aside from improved visitor experience there are many other advantages for business which implement IPS. Follow the link to find out more on that.
What are the different types of Indoor Positioning System?
This is a on/off form of IPS. A WiFi or Bluetooth scanner looks for the presence of devices and increases the count when it detects a device. This means that you can get a pretty good feel for the relative volume of traffic around areas such as an area outside a shop or at a ticket office or entrance.
Having this kind of information allows venue owners to plan more effectively in allocating resources and also helps retail companies improve the accuracy of there sales figures.
Using a network of connected WiFi Hubs its possible to triangulate each device which is connected to the WiFi. Using the MAC address this allows each device to be tracked.
Obviously something like this immediately raises questions about GDPR however after both Apple and Google's bold move to ignore the WiFi specification and make MAC addresses anonymous its likely to trigger a shift in the rest of the industry.
You can read our 2019 GDPR Indoor Location Impact Report here [LINK]
Mobile WiFi could be considered the opposite of WiFi Radar. This uses a mobile phones on-board sensors so the device can either report its location to other permitted services or be 'self-aware' in terms of its location. This capability is normally provided by an Indoor Location SDK.
As an unashamed plug BriteYellow are one of the leaders in the field and you can read more about it here. [LINK]
Bluetooth triangulation works in a similar way to WiFi location tracking using relative field strengths.
However Bluetooth has a number of advantages since they are designed to be low power, are much cheaper than a device with WiFi and can be used in a 'dumb' manner to record and transmit field strengths.
UWB stands for Ultra Wide Band. Simply put this sends out an RF signal which reaches the tags in the environment and they echo back a response which allows very precise location measurements.
Because this is a bespoke RF solution it is more expensive to deploy and doesn't integrate with devices such as Bluetooth and WiFi. However it does find its uses in situations which require great accuracy such as warehouse use cases.
Why doesn't GPS work inside buildings?
GPS Stands for Global Positioning System. It uses a network of satellites in orbit around earth to broadcast RF signals which ground based systems use to triangulate their position.
GPS signals are very high frequency, approximately 1.5Ghz and signals at these frequencies are attenuated heavily by bricks, concrete, corrugated metal roofing and girders. Additionally metal tends to cause reflections and signal scattering which further confuse GPS sensors.
As an aside, mobile phone networks operate in a similar frequency range which is why people experience weak/no bars in some buildings.
Ultimately this means that GPS is not a suitable system for indoor positioning and why there is a need for other technologies.
You can read more about accuracy and issues on the official US government GPS site
Why do we need indoor positioning systems?
Indoor way-finding is possibly one of the most useful use cases for IPS. Google maps is a household name exactly because the issue of finding your way through an increasingly complex, changing and growing world meant it was not always easy to find your way by trying to unfold a map in a car with kids causing trouble in the back.
Admittedly indoors is a smaller scale but if you've ever spent half an hour wondering up and down an aisle trying to find a shop or meet up with your partner or friends then you'll know why its needed.
This could be used in airports to find your terminal before you go on holiday, guide corporate visitors directly to a meeting room or find the right department in a hospital.
Large venue operators often have very little hard data as to how people are moving around their venue, which corridors are busy, which are quiet, which doors are used.
There are alternatives like people counting systems and paying people to stand in corridors and count but this only gives part of the picture.
For venues which want to enable smart location based programmatic events Indoor Positioning systems offer a solution for smart spaces.
In large industrial areas like oil-rigs, factories and airport runways there are areas were staff shouldn't enter or if they had any kind of accident might be hard to find given the size and complexity of the environment.
A location system on staff devices like mobile phones or worn tags would enable geo-fencing alerts to keep staff safe.
As Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technologies continue to improve its easy to imagine a future which is often depicted in sci-fi of being able to see a remote presence as if they were there in the room with you.
Use cases like this will require technology to accurately place digital assets in the AR scenes.