Qualcomm says 3GPP is studying beacon technology for indoor positioning

Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) is working with the U.S. Department of Commerce and others on a proposed 3GPP study to explore ways to improve indoor location accuracy through the use of beacon technology.

Qualcomm reported the research in an ex parte letter to the FCC, in which the company said it would be premature for the commission to a change to its E911 accuracy rules in a way that might compel the use of any technology that is not yet "fully developed, rigorously tested, and proven."

On Feb. 20, 2014, the FCC announced it is considering proposed changes to its E911 rules to include indoor location accuracy--particularly location accuracy in challenging indoor environments such as large multi-story buildings where first responders are often unable to determine the floor or even the building where the 911 call originated.

In its filing, submitted by John Kuzin, senior director, government affairs-regulatory, at Qualcomm, the chipmaker said the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) study item with which it is involved is examining the use of terrestrial beacon systems (TBS) as a complement to other location methods to enhance existing positioning capability indoors and in other challenging locations.  

According to a 3GPP work item description, TBS consist of a network of terrestrial beacons broadcasting signals for positioning purposes. They may use dedicated, unshared spectrum or spectrum shared with other users, including FDD and TDD licensed spectrum.

"This ongoing technical research and development is not triggered by any commission proposal, but rather reflects the industry's ongoing focus on the ability of new air interfaces, most notably LTE, and existing air interfaces not currently used for E911, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, to deliver more accurate position location information," said the filing.

The filing cautioned: "New position location technologies require extensive R&D, testing in multiple diverse environments and refinement before they can be fully integrated into carriers' networks and deployed ubiquitously, as is necessary for E911."

"On-going enhancements to the US FCC Enhanced 911 capability are focusing on in-building positioning and will require augmented capabilities that are not currently available in 3GPP," noted the project.

The Find Me 911 Coalition, which was initially funded by vendor TruePosition, is pushing the FCC to mandate use of more accurate location technologies--with terrestrial beacon transmitters on the list of possibilities--to help public-safety answering points (PSAPs) locate 911 callers if they are calling for help from inside a skyscraper.

Qualcomm is a pioneer in the use of beacon technology and recently announced it is spinning off the unit that houses its Gimbal geolocation beacon business into a separate company. A group of third-party investors has established Qualcomm Retail Solutions, an existing subsidiary of Qualcomm, as an independent, standalone company.

For more:
- see this Qualcomm filing

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