Micro-location is an attractive but fast-moving target

Tammy Parker, FierceWirelessTech

Indoor positioning technologies and related location-based services (LBS) will be a major topic of discussion at the 2014 Mobile World Congress later this month, and the market outlook is pointing to significant growth opportunities.

The micro-location market has been heating up all year and its nascence is highlighted by the wide variety of technological approaches still being pitched as the best solutions. Proposals include magnetic anomalies, sensor fusion (which combines data from disparate sources), LED-based visible light communications as well as commercialized technologies such as Wi-Fi and low-energy Bluetooth Smart, with the latter being key to Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iBeacons and other tracking sensors.

Despite the uncertainties of how exactly the micro-location market will progress, one thing is clear: It is developing and developing quickly.

"We see huge growth for infrastructure-based technologies like Wi-Fi and iBeacons, with BLE [Bluetooth low-energy) deployments forecast to break 20,000 by 2015, largely focused on retail," said Patrick Connolly, senior researcher with ABI Research.

Consumer applications and services that these positioning technologies will enable include ambient intelligence, social networking, corporate/enterprise, fitness/health, mobile advertising and gaming, Connolly said. "With over 800 million smartphones actively using indoor location for applications by 2018, it will be as standard as GPS is today," he added.

Wi-Fi network vendor Ruckus Wireless got in on the action this week, announcing its cloud-based Smart Positioning Technology (SPoT) service. Key applications envisioned for the service include movement analysis, such as footfall analytics in a retail environment, and user engagement, which might include targeted on-premise content, guided tours and other applications. SPoT will be available next quarter and is being sold as a subscription-based service that costs $25 per Ruckus access point per month.

SPoT leverages the technology of YFind Technologies, which Ruckus acquired last summer for an undisclosed price. New and existing Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi access points can be embedded with an indoor positioning algorithm developed by YFind, enabling the APs to provide positioning in GPS-unfriendly indoor or dense urban environments.

In addition, Ruckus announced a complementary partner program for third-party application developers that want to create customized location analytics and mobile apps based on the SPoT service for vertical market niches. Partners will be provided with an open API and SDK.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin-based mobilization-strategy and location-intelligence vendor Solomo Technology last week launched an updated version of its cloud-based Exchange platform for marketers. The platform includes a portal with user dashboards, a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth sensor, a technology-agnostic location platform, APIs and interactive maps.

And an Italian startup called inbeacons recently reached out to let me know it is preparing to release a beta version of its free cloud-based customer-management system, which works with Estimote beacons. Inbeacons promises to provide users with a web application to configure, remotely store data and rest APIs to retrieve content from apps.

Comparing the size, scope and breadth of micro-location services offered by those three vendors--Ruckus, Solomo and inbeacons--pretty much sums up the state of the market right now. The number of players trying to get in on various aspects of the high-accuracy LBS market before it shakes out is staggering.

Expect even more players--both large and small--to get involved as the ecosystem for this fast-moving target comes together over time.--Tammy

P.S.: FierceWirelessTech will not publish this Monday, Feb. 17, in observance of the Presidents' Day holiday. We will be back in your inbox on Tuesday, Feb. 18. Have a delightful holiday!