Regardless of whether you’re considering indoor positioning technology for your hospital, warehouse, construction site, or correctional facility (or a business in any other industry), we highly recommend asking these four questions to help you select the best solution. 

1. How accurate do we need our indoor positioning technology to be?

This is the first and arguably the most important question you should ask when weighing options for location technology. It’s simple to break down:

  • If you need room-level accuracy, active RFID or infrared RTLS are your go-to solutions.
  • If you need precise accuracy (even more exact than room-level), you need to use ultra wide-band or a WiFi-based system.

Before you jump to conclusions about which category you fit into, it’s worth pressure-testing your assumption. The only cases I’ve seen that need precision accuracy are operating in large, open-air spaces like warehouses. They need a system that is precise down to the foot (or even centimeter) since they have thousands of items on shelves. In this instance, room-level accuracy would be horrible, as the individual looking for an asset could still spend hours combing the area.

In operational settings (in hospitals, manufacturing, correctional facilities, etc.), you very likely only need to know the room-level accuracy. For example, if you’re primarily using indoor positioning technology to locate employees, you really don’t need to know what side of a room they’re on.

In short, you have to weigh the importance of granular data with the expense.

2. How expensive will this system be?

You need to consider several things when you’re calculating expense:

  • Installation: For example, infrared RTLS is very expensive to install; you have to put infrastructure in every room you want location in throughout the building. Because of the intensity of its infrastructure, it’s not ideal for retrofits and is better suited for new construction. Ultra wide-band is also very difficult to install. Keep in mind that not all installation costs are surface-level either. You’ll want to consider whether you have to run ethernet cables or signal cables to your readers as well as any permitting costs you need to be aware of.
  • Tag costs: Tags for passive RFID systems can be pennies, while WiFi tags may run up to $90 a piece. Be sure to consider this when you look for a system.
  • Access points: Not all access points are similar in cost. For example, the access points needed for an active RTLS system run from $1000 to $4500, but the access points needed to support a WiFi RTLS system are multithousand dollars a piece. Additionally, WiFi access points have to be manually calibrated, which is time-consuming (thus adding labor costs).

3. How long do we need our tags to last?

Readers are typically plugged in, so power consumption there isn’t a problem—but on the tag side, this can be problematic. For example, WiFi tags have to be large because they consume a lot of power.

  • Infrared tags transmit light signals, which drains the battery.
  • WiFi-based tags are the most power-hungry tags, which makes them the largest in size.
  • Passive RFID sticker tags are extremely inexpensive—as low as 10 cents a piece when purchased in bulk. On top of that, they last forever. The downside is that the readers are very expensive and are only really feasible if you’re doing chokepoint RTLS. Otherwise you’d need to position these readers every 10-15 feet for them to work for RFID, which isn’t often realistic.
  • Bluetooth-based tags are often used for active RFID. AirFinder, for example, uses standard iBeacon tags which run $2-$10 a piece.

4. Does our potential solution have a user-friendly interface?

One thing you may not realize about indoor positioning technologies is that some interfaces are overly complicated. We regularly hear that people thought they’d love all the bells and whistles of a particular RTLS technology during the demo but quickly found out they weren’t very easy to use.

So keep in mind the individuals who will be using the system regularly—there’s something to be said for simple user interface design. The manager may like the fancy location map, but the everyday user may just want to know where a particular shipment is.

Let’s Talk

We’re happy to discuss any additional questions you may have as you select your indoor positioning technology.

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Written by Brian Ray

Brian is the Founder and CTO of Link Labs. As the chief technical innovator and leader of the company, Brian has led the creation and deployment of a new type of ultra long-range, low-power wireless networking which is transforming the Internet of Things and M2M space.

Before starting Link Labs, Brian led a team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab that solved communications and geolocation problems for the national intelligence community. He was also the VP of Engineering at the network security company, Lookingglass, and served for eight years as a submarine officer in the U.S. Navy. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and received his Master’s Degree from Oxford University.