Broadcom, IndoorAtlas make indoor-location pitches

Companies large and small continue developing indoor-location solutions as they make a play for what they hope will develop into a lucrative market for tracking users of portable communications devices. However, there are early indications that some users may want to gain more control over their location information, potentially throwing a monkey wrench into the vision for how location-based services might work.

Among this week's new offerings for the indoor-location market is Broadcom's BMC43462 system on chip (SoC), which integrates the vendor's AccuLocate technology on an 802.11ac Wi-Fi chip.

The company said AccuLocate relies upon fine timing measurement (FTM) technology, which is not negatively impacted by environmental factors. "Previous versions of indoor positioning relied on received signal strength indicator (RSSI) technology, where signal strength and performance can vary depending on environmental factors such as crowd density or temperature," Broadcom said.

According to the vendor, its indoor-positioning technology provides sub-meter accuracy, "enabling retailers and public venue operators to deliver more personalized experiences to consumers." Broadcom added that the indoor location market is predicted to reach $4 billion in 2018.

"Location-based technology installations will break the 25,000 mark in 2014, while mobile devices capable of supporting indoor location will reach hundreds of millions within two years," said Patrick Connolly, ABI Research senior analyst.

Meanwhile, Finnish startup IndoorAtlas unveiled what it claims is the first indoor mapping application for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS. While iOS supports Apple's iBeacon micro-fencing solution for indoor positioning, IndoorAtlas uses the compass chip built into smartphones and does not require external hardware such as Bluetooth beacons or Wi-Fi to determine location.

In addition, while Apple's iOS platform does not offer APIs for Wi-Fi positioning, IndoorAtlas API and tools are available for third-party app developers. The startup's cross-platform solution is available for Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform as well.

The IndoorAtlas Mobile app for iOS uses geomagnetic fields to create and magnetically map any building and includes features such as floorplan uploading from a photo or image file, sensor data collection and map generation and, of course, indoor positioning. IndoorAtlas' software-only solution can provide accuracy within six feet inside any building without additional hardware. The company said it is already licensing the solution to retail, public-safety, manufacturing and customers in various vertical markets.

However, while mobile marketers are excitedly applying geolocation data for customer tracking, in-store promotions and brand marketing, the arrival of Cloak, touted as "anti-social networking" tool, in Apple's App Store could be a wakeup call.

The app allows a user to avoid friends he or she does not want to see by revealing the location of contacts while keeping the user's whereabouts hidden. The app currently uses Instagram and Foursquare data, and Facebook compatibility is coming soon.

"The interest in Cloak is clearly not an isolated anomaly," wrote Jim McCall, managing director of U.K.-based marketing agency The Unit, in a Marketing Magazine blog post. He noted Cloak is "about empowering consumers to control the amount of information that they share online."

Cloak's early popularity--it garnered 100,000 downloads in about a week--also signals mobile users' desire to better control information about their locations and movements. The arrival of this app, and others that are sure to follow, could ultimately disrupt the plans of vendors and mobile marketers looking to exploit location data from cellular and Wi-Fi networks and personal area networks (PANs) based on Bluetooth Low Energy.

After all, a device's location information cannot be used if the device's owner makes it unavailable.

For more:
- see this Broadcom release
- see this IndoorAtlas release
- see this Marketing Magazine blog post

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