Who are the big players innovating in Indoor Location and Positioning? What technologies are attracting the most attention? How will Indoor Location evolve? In my previous post I covered the different technical approaches to Indoor Location, how they work, and some of the market uses for it. In this post I will cover some of the leading large players and their technical approaches. In an upcoming post I will cover many startups that are innovating faster than the big companies.
Who are the big players? Indoor Location will be a huge market, bigger than Maps or GPS. Many big companies have been researching this technology for years. Some already have products in the market. Here is a quick look at some of the players and where they fit in the technology stack.
Chip Sets - Mobile chip manufacturers are consolidating the wifi, NFC (Near Field Communications), Bluetooth, cellular, and GPS radios needed to calculate indoor location, as well as sensors like accelerometers, gyros, altimeters, compass, and magnetometers into the chip sets. Leaders in this space include; Broadcom, Qualcomm, InvenSense, STMicroelectonics and CSR. These chip sets provide the x,y coordinates, signal strength, direction, and other sensor data that Operating Systems and Applications can use to calculate precise location reference points.
Mobile Operating Systems - Mobile Operating Systems are also incorporating Indoor Location services that application developers can access via APIs. The big players in this space include Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Apple is late to market with Maps and even further behind with Indoor Location which is one reason why they recently acquired WifiSlam, an indoor location startup. Expect Apple to make significant progress in this area through internal development and acquisitions.
Google's Android OS powers many Smartphones which already include Google Maps. Google has provided indoor maps for over 10,000 buildings including office buildings, airports, shopping malls, and other public buildings for a long time. Google has also piloted Indoor Positioning using Wifi signal triangulation. Do a Google Maps search for Westfield Mall San Francisco. Watch what happens as you zoom in to the location...an Indoor Map of the mall identifies the individual stores, and even where the hand bags are located within a store.
Microsoft's Bing Maps has over 3,000 indoor maps of airports, shopping malls, and public buildings.
Handset Manufacturers - The large Smartphone handset manufacturers are incorporating the location chip sets and Mobile Operating Systems into their phones. They are also adding their own software and services for location. All the major players are doing research and development on Indoor Location. These include Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson.
Motorola already has Indoor Location Manager, and recently announced TRX Indoor Location System. Motorola has been researching indoor location for many years and has a significant patent portfolio that covers wifi signals, Bluetooth technology, Inertial Navigation using sensors, and even using signals from indoor lighting.
Nokia has its own indoor location technology called HAIP (High Accuracy Indoor Positioning) based on BlueTooth Low Energy beacons (BLE). Nokia also started the In-Location Alliance which is an industry trade group focused on Indoor Location. Nokia demoed their indoor location technology at Mobile World Congress 2012. Here is a YouTube video of that demo.
Samsung is part of the In-Location Alliance and one of the largest Smartphone manufacturers. Samsung has also done significant research on indoor location technologies including; wifi signals, other radio signals, Bluetooth technology, Inertial Navigation using sensors, and signals from indoor lighting. In the past Samsung has relied on Operating System services for indoor location, but in the future could choose to commercialize some of its research.
Sony Ericsson has done research on indoor location and has a couple demonstration projects called SemcMap and Indoor Finder. Sony Ericsson is one of the few companies to experiment with GPS signal retransmitting indoors. The idea is to mount roof top antennas to receive GPS signals and retransmit them inside the building which gets around the "line of sight" limitations of GPS. Sony Ericsson has also done research on Rake Receivers which is basically an array of radio receivers deployed across a building that minimizes the effect of signal fading.
Cisco has a product called Mobility Service Engine which is built into some of their wireless network equipment. Here the network device analyzes signal strengths of Smartphones and wireless devices to determine their position and location. This is the reverse of most solutions where the Smartphone measures the signals and determines location. Cisco has also done extensive reserach on indoor postioning using all the usual technologies and methods described above. These include wifi signal strength, wifi fingerprints, map constraints, inertial sensors, and otehrs.
Aruba Networks uses location data as part of its network security. For example they measure how many times a specific phone or device has connected to the network in the past, how long they stayed connected, where they connected, and then maps that data to corporate roles and permissions for that device.
This post covered the big companies working on indoor location from a technology stack perspective. My next post will cover startups that are innovating in indoor location at the application level for consumer markets like games, social, shopping, advertising, and other areas.
Disclosures: I work for Google in Developer Relations. Google is very active in Android, Maps, and Indoor Location. I don't have direct knowledge of their plans and wouldn't reveal them even if I did. But, sometimes bias can creep in, so take that into consideration when reading this.
I was an early investor in WifiSlam, an indoor location startup, that was acquired by Apple. I no longer have any financial interest in WifiSlam, but that experience could also bias my opinion.
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