5 things to consider for commercial feasibility of Indoor Location

December 19th, 2017

When deploying or considering indoor location solutions, there are several things to consider. Undoubtly, the single most important thing to contemplate is the intended use case. This is the what, when, who and why. Having a clear picture of who is going to benefit from the Location-based services, how and when dictates the requirements needed for the service.

From our experience in deploying indoor positioning systems over the years, we’ve learned the hard way what can be considered as the necessary foundation of a successful deployment.

In this blog post we’ll go through a few aspects that we’ve noticed are important to go through when scoping out and deploying indoor location solutions.

User experience

When deploying location-based services in a consumer facing app, perhaps the single most important thing to keep in mind is the user experience. Users are notoriously picky and demanding when it comes to using an app or not. A pro tip is to consider all aspects of the service; what are the thresholds and loops that my users need to jump through in order to get the benefit you are trying to provide? How will my technology decisions influence the user experience? Is the user experience consistent throughout the customer journey?

For indoor positioning systems, we have identified a few dimensions that can greatly impact the user experience of navigating indoors:

  • Accuracy. The preciseness with which the user can see their own position and their destination need. We have found that, for example in a shopping mall use case, an accuracy of a 1–3 m (3–10ft) is an accuracy that users are comfortable with. If the accuracy is worse, indicating a significant gap between where the user is, and where the user is shown to be in the app, the experience is negatively affected and users tend to disregard the service as less useful.
  • Responsiveness. How fast the positioning system reacts to the user’s movements. For a smooth user experience, there should be little or no latency. Even a few seconds of lag can impact the user experience in a negative way.
  • Boot-up time. The time it takes between opening up the app, and the first use position is indicated on the map. Nobody likes to wait, and this holds true for apps as well. Users want seamless interactions, and a quick boot-up time, within a second or so, ensures that the user can get going, instead of waiting in frustration.
  • Battery consumption. Even if a service is good, users can be reluctant to use it if it completely drains the smartphone battery. Contrary to popular belief, energy consumption by Bluetooth (BLE) is very low in today’s smartphones (hence the name; Bluetooth Low Energy). Compared to GPS or regular browsing over Wi-Fi, indoor positioning using BLE requires minimal energy.
  • Run positioning in background mode. Being able to run the positioning in background mode means that even if a user switches to another app, or puts their phone in their pocket, the position will still be updated whenever they return to the app.
  • Works without internet connection. Internet and 3G coverage can vary widely in large indoor spaces. Indoor positioning systems that can run without internet not only cut out lag from unreliable internet connections, but also reduce costly server traffic, and in the end ensure a snappier service for users.

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Robustness

With robustness, we refer to the overall quality of performance over time. Indoor environments are prone to changes and not surprisingly, these changes can greatly impact the quality of an indoor positioning system. For example, the geomagnetic fields in buildings are not constant over time. This means, if you rely heavily on the magnetic fields as a reference for positioning, and this magnetic reference is changing, you’d have to re-calibrate in order to maintain positioning performance.

A low level of robustness can impact the user experience negatively and ultimately affect the adoption of your service or perception of your brand. It can also lead to unexpected levels of maintenance which brings us to the next point on the list…

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Total Cost of ownership

The total cost of ownership (TCO) is an investment term that combines the costs of acquisition and costs of operation and maintenance. By taking a more holistic approach to gauging the “real” cost of an investment, TCO can give a more nuanced picture of a particular solution. For indoor location systems, a seemingly insignificant change in specifications can amount to large changes in TCO. Factors that impact TCO are:

  • Beacon density. The number of beacons used to enable IPS on a specific area. This number impacts both beacon maintenance cost, and installation costs. (Read more about Beacon density)
  • Beacon battery life time. How often, on average, you have to change a battery of a beacon. If the battery life time is low, and the beacon density is high – more resources have to be allocated to keep the performance up.
  • Re-calibration. As mentioned in the chapter above, the frequency with which you have to recalibrate has an impact on on the TCO.
  • Installation. How much time and resources you have to dedicate to install a system determines has an impact on the TCO as well as the rate at which you can deploy additional venues. Hours? Days? Weeks or even months?

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Compatibility

Some 99% of the total smartphone market is made up of the two most popular mobile operating systems, Android and iOS. There are a few differences between the two that are important to keep in mind when it comes indoor location capabilities. The most important difference is the restriction in iOS that prevents apps from reading the Wi-Fi signal data. What this means is that calculating the position on the phone using nearby Wi-Fi signals is out of the question on iOS devices.

Another important distinction is the total number of smartphone models. Different models mean different sensors and hardware. For example, while there are only a handful of iOS devices, the same number for (reasonably current) Android smartphones is in the range of 60-70 different models. To provide a consistent service, you want to make sure that the performance and functionality works well and is consistent on both iOS and Android devices.

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Security & system integrity

Last but not least, and this one should really go without saying but it bears repeating; security is not a feature, but a process.

A challenge with beacons is that it’s fairly easy to record a UUID, the unique ID that beacons transmit. This means that third party can either piggy-back on your installed beacon network (i.e. using your beacons to trigger a location based event and use that to benefit themselves), or “spoofing” (copying) the beacon ID to circumvent the location aspect tied to the service.

A fairly recent case of someone spoofing beacons hack a location-based service happened at the CES 2014 in Las Vegas. Through the CES app, the organizers offered visitors a treasure hunt based on iBeacons scattered over the entire expo. By decompiling the android app to get hold of the UUIDs, the team at Make Magazine, managed to obtain the beacon information and win the treasure hunt without even visiting the show.

If a location-based service is used for location-based promotions, discounts or any feature of a loyalty program..

There are a few different strategies to combat this threat, for example scrambling or rotating the beacon IDs. For IT-infrastructure like indoor positioning systems, these types of threats need to be understood and properly mitigated.


Interested in learning more? You find this and much more in introductory whitepaper on Indoor Positioning Systems