In my previous article on “Positioning systems and mobility management I” looked at the Wi-Fi infrastructure solution within a given area.
The location of a client carrying a Wi-Fi-enabled device could be estimated based on the information received from several APs about a client’s proximity. The client didn’t even have to connect to the network, just having the interface turned on was enough.
In some scenarios with Wi-Fi infrastructure and mechanisms for communicating location, Wi-Fi signal coverage and positioning accuracy may not be sufficient for the analytical tools. For example: Are you in store X or Y? Where in the supermarket is product W? Whereabouts in Zone C of the airport car park is my car parked? How do I get to zone Z?
The most widely deployed technical solution in these cases are the famous beacons, small battery-powered autonomous devices that transmit information through BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) and that are widely distributed throughout a specific area.
The beacons send small amounts of information periodically to other devices in the vicinity. This information contains:
– A unique identifier or beacon UUID, which defines the device that sends the information.
– Group identifiers or Beacon Group: ID (Major) and ID (Minor), which can identify the shop and department, respectively.
– Signal strength.
– Energy level or battery status.
The beacons allow greater precision because they are more concerned with user proximity than with trigonometric calculations. Their range is from 30 cm to 30 meters but how do they work?
With the Wi-Fi technology-based solution we don’t need to have an application on our device. With the beacons, however, having an app enabled on the devices is absolutely essential because, among other things, the application ensures that the Bluetooth interface is enabled so that it can interact with the information being constantly transmitted by the Beacons.
The information is exchanged as follows:
- The beacons transmit their Bluetooth signal periodically.
- The smartphone of the user in the vicinity detects the broadcast, the data are captured by the device app which sends them to the mobility management system in the area.
- The central system stores information about our device for analysis.
- The central system processes the information and communicates with the user through the application if necessary.
Whoever is responsible for managing the area that the user is in, obviously knows both the user’s location and their reaction to any indications, alerts or notifications. This information can also be very useful, particularly for marketing companies.
The beacons can be very small and distributed throughout the area but the BLE signal is sensitive to a number of factors such as humidity, the number of people, etc., which may affect accuracy. Consequently a preliminary study on position and surrounding materials is essential.
Key elements of a mobility solution
One of the benefits of mobility management systems is that no additional investment in equipment is required by an organization if they already have existing Wi-Fi coverage in the area where the service is required. Beacons must be acquired if that infrastructure is not sufficient.
The key elements involved are:
1. Wi-Fi or Beacons, or why not both?
The Wi-Fi network structure is indispensable if the client’s main goal is to provide Internet access and, if high positioning accuracy is not required, the very same network can provide exceptional mobility analysis.
The beacons are very easy to install and distribute in a specific area. However, while they are autonomous, there is the problem of quantity and that you need to be physically present to reconfigure the beacons and upgrade firmware, that is, management can be complex and not always centralized.
A combined solution of access points with an integrated BLE interface that can be synchronized with nearby beacons would facilitate good coverage and fully centralized management if this is essential.
2. Terminal application
A specific application must always be used in the connection device if interaction with the user is required.
3. Analysis software
The management tools tend to be owned by manufacturers and service providers and they facilitate how mobility data are processed but, at the same time, usually have APs available so that third parties can offer products that allow specific analyzes tailored to particular scenarios: hospitals, large warehouses, etc.
Today most terminals support Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The operating systems of these devices have even been optimized to reduce battery consumption when using these connection interfaces which means that users do not pose a problem when it comes to implementing mobility solutions.
The proper integration of these four components allows companies to have information that can be used to interact with their clients through marketing campaigns, as well as revealing the best areas for customized commercial activities.
As always Teldat is at the forefront of technology and is studying the integration of BLE technology into its new WLAN product lines.