Deploying location-based WiFi services

Nader Baghdadi, regional director, Middle Eas at Ruckus Wireless, talks about location-based WiFi services and how these can add real and immediate value to existing enterprise and carrier WiFi deployments.

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Deploying location-based WiFi services Baghdadi says channel partners should expect WiFi to provide much more than Internet access.
By  Nader Baghdadi Published  January 28, 2014

Nader Baghdadi, regional director, Middle Eas at Ruckus Wireless, talks about location-based WiFi services and how these can add real and immediate value to existing enterprise and carrier WiFi deployments.

Knowing where someone is, is important. If you know where someone is, you are in a better position to do something for or with them. This is the basic concept behind location-based WiFi services (so-called LBS).

Indoor location technologies have received a lot of attention in the mobile world recently, with Apple’s acquisition of WiFiSLAM, Google’s increasing support for indoor locations in Google Maps, and Microsoft’s expansion of indoor maps in Bing.

By knowing where clients are, companies are able to help them get wherever they need to go, make the network experience better for them, use data from their location to optimise their experience, offer and tell them stuff along the way. As Smart WiFi solves the capacity, reliability, and performance problems on WiFi infrastructure, enterprises and carriers have become keenly interested in offering LBS services to their customers and their clients.

WiFi-based positioning systems are used where GPS is inadequate, due to various causes including multipath and signal blockage indoors. Though the WiFi protocol fundamentals haven’t changed much in the past few years, the ecology of WiFi location services have completely flipped.

Now that almost every human on the planet has multiple WiFi-enabled devices–in pocket, on hip, in hand, on the desk–businesses from retail and hospitality to healthcare and education are looking to capitalise. With that shift, new techniques to improve accuracy are emerging, user behaviour and expectations are changing, and new location service models are being built.

WiFi supports a number of different location approaches today, but signal strength localisation based on signal strength (using multiple received signal measurements to calculate the source’s location) and RF fingerprinting (collecting on-site RF data to map signal measurements to locations) have been the most common. Most of the focus on location was initially placed on asset tracking or locating clients and rogue APs.

Some techniques to determine client location include RTLS, mobile applications, WiFi signal-based localisation and RF Fingerprinting, and time difference of Arrival (TDOA).

With mobile devices as the catalyst, a more user- and consumer-centric approach to location is taking form, where businesses seek to benefit indirectly by adding value to their customers, guests, or end-users.

It’s important to note that the biggest single benefit of LBS services is gathering data and analytics from users that can be used by organisations to improve the user experience and customer service. Almost always, when you hear pundits talk about location services, they cite the usefulness of location to push people advertisements and coupons. This is interesting and useful but users find it bothersome at best.

Naturally, a lot of focus has been on retail, where location and analytics are wed. As we’re already seeing, many solutions focus on higher-level analytics with rough RSSI data to evaluate customer traffic trends, capture rates, return rates, and similar.

But look at verticals such as hospitality. They have elements of retail (bar, restaurant, spa/massage services).

Then there’s the huge premium on customer service, where location services could be tied to customer service systems, personalised greetings for loyalty members, quicker in-app check-in on arrival, and you can dream up any number of ways to pamper guests with location-specific customer service enhancements.

And the wheels are spinning in other industries, like transportation, manufacturing, healthcare, stadiums, and other venues. Expect WiFi to provide much more than Internet access; as the trend matures, users will begin looking for site/venue-specific apps on arrival.

Beyond the enterprise, carriers have an even stronger interest in offering location services and analytics – not only to better tune their network but to also help monetise them. If it’s not already, put this topic on your radar. Location may be the next place to be.

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