Wi-Fi Alliance introduces certification for better indoor positioning

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Wi-Fi Location is based on the Fine Timing Measurement protocol and promises meter-level accuracy for indoor device location.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is launching a new Wi-Fi Certified Location program that’s sure to lead to improved navigation inside buildings—and it has implications for finding people indoors in emergencies as well.

Wi-Fi Location uses the time-of-flight approach as defined by the Fine Timing Measurement (FTM) protocol in IEEE standard 802.11-2016. Wi-Fi Location provides meter-level accuracy and could serve as the foundation for emergency services or anything that requires precise location, according to Kevin Robinson, VP of marketing at the Wi-Fi Alliance.

Access points can not only provide their global coordinates but also a civil address with the floor number. That is to say, each AP could be configured to say it’s located on the third floor of 1234 Main Street, and that data can be provided to the client. That addresses the big question—when calls from a mobile phone come from inside tall buildings, for example, and the dispatcher can’t determine which floor the call is coming from. Today, many approaches leverage altitude, but a lot of that complexity is removed with Wi-Fi Location, Robinson said.

Finding wireless callers insider buildings has posed a problem for first responders for years. Cellular networks and GPS use altitude in meters above mean-sea-level as a vertical dimension, notes a Wi-Fi Alliance white paper. Although that's an accurate measure, it's difficult for end users to relate this measurement to their location within a building, for example the floor number they're on in an office building. 

Besides emergency services, applications for the Wi-Fi Location feature include improved indoor navigation services, asset management, smart cities, network management, geo-fencing and hyperlocal marketing.

Of course, it's going to be a while before the feature is widely deployed as it requires both infrastructure and client support. The Wi-Fi Alliance is launching the certification program this week and expects it will take time before Wi-Fi Location gets baked into smartphones and other devices. “We’re very much early days on this,” Robinson said. “It’s unlikely you’ll see mass deployments in 2017,” but infrastructure providers are likely evaluating it for products later this year and into 2018.

Robinson said Wi-Fi Location has built-in privacy protections as well; access to the location information is restricted based on user-configured settings. The infrastructure requires user consent to receive the user’s location. In addition, an AP may only request a mobile device to perform a range measurement or location procedure and share the results if the mobile device is connected to the requesting AP.

The Wi-Fi Alliance white paper also notes that beacons have gained traction in several markets for location-based services, particularly in retail, but while beacons themselves are not high in cost, their range is short and a great number of beacons are needed to effectively cover large spaces.