MWC 2019: indoors is the new playground for geolocation

Having been explored in recent years through Wi-Fi Positioning and the advent of Beacons in particular, indoor geolocation opens up new perspectives for tracking objects and people. Orange, through its Orange Applications for Business entity, is at the forefront of this new technological field with solutions tailored to key issues in different business sectors, such as industry and health.

New technologies dedicated to indoor tracking, as GPS is blind inside buildings.

For more than 20 years, GPS has been the common reference in the field of geolocation and has shaped the digital life of both the general public and businesses. Having previously focused on outdoor environments, this revolution has recently moved indoors with the rise of new technologies, as GPS is still “blind” inside buildings.

A key issue for economic and industrial players

“Indoor tracking” is a source of potential additional intelligence for many organisations. Particularly in the context of Industry 4.0, digital indoor geolocation is perceived as a major driver for the rationalisation and optimisation of operations in factories, allowing objects, materials and tools to be tracked and data to be processed according to their location. Retail is also regularly cited among the sectors with the most to benefit from “indoor tracking”, with use cases mainly relating to “geofencing” to promote mobile marketing in situ.

The implementation of services based on indoor geolocation is mostly based on a combination of three building blocks – equipment (sensors, beacons, etc.), data processing software, and connectivity. As regards connectivity, there are three main families: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Ultra Wideband. Bluetooth is one of the most mature technologies in the field, in terms of both performance and cost. It is at the heart of the range of Smart Indoor Tracking offers developed by Orange.

Bluetooth, at the forefront of “indoor tracking”

Through its Orange Applications for Business (OAB) structure, which specialises in supporting companies around the themes of Data/Analytics and connected objects in particular, Orange offers solutions tailored to the specific needs of its customers. Of these, two are presented at the Mobile World Congress and are distinguished by their unique technical and operational characteristics. Both are powered by Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).

The first is developed in partnership with Quuppa, arguably the world’s most advanced company in the market for positioning/locating technologies using BLE. It provides an extremely accurate location in real time, thanks to the combination of several technological building blocks. “Tags positioned on the objects that we wish to track transmit a regular BLE signal,” explains Grégoire Thillaye du Boullay, Product Manager IoT/Smart Indoor Tracking at OAB. Advanced antennas retrieve this signal and data is then processed using the Angle-of-Arrival (AoA) method. The solution is thus able to provide a location, instantaneously, with positioning accuracy down to around 10 cm.” As part of the demo, the antenna system shows how these lightweight plastic labels can fit on any type of object for industrial use cases. They can also change colour depending on the area where they are used – a major security feature for tracing critical or sensitive materials.

Deployment flexibility

The other solution presented highlights two key issues in the adoption and ownership of new indoor geolocation technologies: simplicity and cost. The Orange Beacon Tag offers accessible, easy-to-deploy and flexible indoor tracking. “The system is based on a connectivity mix, with BLE communication between tags and antennas, and LoRa technology between these and the processing tool. Unlike the Quuppa antenna device, the Orange Beacon Tag offers neither real time nor as precise positioning. But it is perfectly suited for use in geolocation and high-level monitoring at a reduced cost. It is distinguished by its flexibility of deployment: antennas support all connectivity to optimise the size and lifespan of tags, and are equipped with magnets so they can be quickly attached to different types of objects in a Plug & Play configuration. They have also been designed for operations in harsh industrial environments, and are sufficiently robust to operate in metal environments in particular.”

An “agnostic” HMI (Human Machine Interface)

With a view to providing a simple and user-friendly product, the management and control of geolocation services offered by all Orange solutions are provided via a single interface. “The range of Smart Indoor Tracking offers is grouped under a single operational customer application. Whether the user opts for the beacon tag or the Quuppa antennas system, they will be able to monitor their equipment from this platform alone, and select the uses that interest them: inventory, data processing, geofencing, etc.”

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