Answered: Five Key Questions About Bluetooth Location Services

At the core of Quuppa’s Bluetooth system is the SW Suite, which, among different tools and applications, contains a positioning engine developed over more than 15 years. The Quuppa founding team began work on advanced direction finding and location algorithms, as well as antenna array modeling, as far back as 2004. In fact, in 2010, some of the founding members were among the key contributors to a new standardization initiative, the core of which was released in 2019 as part of the new Bluetooth Direction Finding feature.

The Bluetooth Core Specification defines the base methodology behind Bluetooth Direction Finding, but most of the implementation aspects (encompassing hardware, software, and firmware) are left to vendors to design and implement. In other words, anything that is related to the actual location system architecture and applications is not covered by the standard. Thus, the Quuppa Intelligent Locating System can be seen as a vendor-specific implementation over Bluetooth Direction Finding that adds a wide range of additional capabilities for highly accurate and reliable low-latency positioning and tracking at different levels of required precision. In this article, we address some of the most common questions that we get asked about Bluetooth® location services, Ultra Wide Band, and the Quuppa Intelligent Locating System.

Is Bluetooth Technology the Most Flexible Location Services Technology?

Bluetooth® technology supports different location methodologies and enables location-based solutions all the way from simple presence detection to reliable centimeter-level positioning with different degrees of accuracy, from proximity to high accuracy and everything in between. Already, Bluetooth is the technology of choice for many location-based services related to either asset tracking (real-time location systems – RTLS) or indoor positioning systems for wayfinding solutions such as mobile phone navigation.

Furthermore, two more factors are unique: the standard’s global adoption (operating on the 2.4 GHz ISM band) and mass-market economies of scale (billions of existing devices are already Bluetooth enabled with many more coming daily) offer a powerful advantage over other positioning technologies like UWB (Ultra Wide Band), for example.

Are Bluetooth Technology Positioning Systems Reliable?

Yes. Over the years, vendors and members of the Bluetooth® community have significantly contributed to the constant evolution of Bluetooth technology. Improvements and updates are coming regularly for the foreseeable future as well.

With the introduction of the Quuppa Intelligent Location system, it is possible to create robust and reliable location systems leveraging the Bluetooth Direction Finding methodology. This has allowed Bluetooth based RTLS to grow into a highly robust and reliable technology. For example, we have countless real-world deployments of Quuppa Direction Finding positioning systems in some of the harshest and most demanding environments in the world, ranging from industrial facilities to logistics centers and sports arenas, all providing reliable data.

Bluetooth positioning systems can also be successfully installed in metallic environments. It is a common misconception that Bluetooth positioning systems are not suitable for metallic or other environments that typically exhibit a lot of interference from multipath signal propagation. By leveraging a mature and robust positioning engine, the multipath issues can be addressed easily.

If you’d like to learn more, Quuppa was recently invited to present at a Bluetooth webinar where we gave concrete examples of how the Quuppa ILS can reliably operate in harsh metallic environments affected by multipath propagation.

Is Bluetooth Technology a Future-Proof Solution of Choice?

Yes, Bluetooth® is a true standard technology to which many companies from all around the world contribute to daily to improve existing functionalities and propose new features. It is a transparent process to which anyone can contribute, irrespective of the size of the company sponsoring their work.

Billions of electronic devices and radio chips are manufactured every year, and a large majority of them are already Bluetooth enabled by design. Furthermore, since many features can be enabled, even after manufacturing, with a simple software or firmware update to the device, this really helps future proof the technology.

Last but not least, and especially important for mobile devices, is the fact that since Bluetooth technology globally operates on the 2.4 GHz ISM band, similarly to WiFi, no dedicated hardware, such as extra antennas, needs to be added to the BOM (bill of materials) of the mobile devices like phones and handsets.

What Are the Benefits of Bluetooth Positioning Systems Against Ultra Wide Band?

Ultra Wide Band (UWB) has emerged as a solution for high-accuracy positioning and has some great capabilities. For example, its wide bandwidth means it produces highly accurate ranging measurements under normal conditions, and it also requires little expertise for an end customer to build an accurate measurement system, e.g., starting from a development kit.

Recently, some high-end smartphones have added support for UWB to enable device-to-device positioning (like Airtag and SmartThing), which can be used both for asset finding and keyless entry. UWB has thus far always been co-located with Bluetooth® technology in commercial applications, whether it’s in an asset tag, a car door, or a smartphone. In this context, UWB is typically used complementarily with Bluetooth technology, providing the location information when the devices are already in proximity to each other.

UWB does have some technological and market constraints.

  • It requires additional silicon content and antennas when equipping mobile devices (e.g., phone, tablet, handset, even tags)
  • Only a limited number of vendors produce the technology (e.g., a small number of vendors use 802.15.4z (high or low-pulse repetition – HPR/LPR) with others using proprietary solutions, resulting in market fragmentation since not all UWB implementations are interoperable
  • The UWB ecosystem remains relatively small.

There are technical limitations as well, including higher power consumption and shorter maximum range than other technologies.

Bluetooth® Direction Finding, in contrast, offers significantly longer battery life on tracking tags, longer maximum range, and support for battery friendly or interoperable IoT gateway functionality on locators. Bluetooth Direction Finding solutions typically also have a lower total cost of ownership, accounting for initial planning and deployment costs along with long-term maintenance. Bluetooth technology also benefits from economies of scale in manufacturing and its position as a global platform with billions of compatible devices already on the market.

UWB will by no means replace Bluetooth technology. There are many product classes that can get the target performance from Bluetooth technology alone. As we heard from Quuppa’s Fabio Belloni in the Bluetooth SIG’s positioning webinar, Bluetooth Direction Finding can be used to enable high-accuracy location services in incredibly challenging conditions. For example, Quuppa’s solutions are used in hockey and soccer telemetry, as well as for asset tracking in harsh industrial environments. And while some portions of the automotive keyless entry market are leaning on UWB, carmakers like Ford have launched Bluetooth Phone as a Key. It remains to be seen whether Bluetooth based or hybrid UWB/Bluetooth systems will ultimately emerge as the optimal automotive keyless entry solution when taking into account accuracy, cost, and user experience.

What Is the Difference Between Bluetooth Direction Finding and Bluetooth Beaconing?

Bluetooth® beacons, introduced around 2010, have become so prevalent that whenever Bluetooth location services are mentioned, people tend to assume that beacons are involved. However, while beacons are by no means an obsolete technology, they are far from the state of the art Bluetooth location services technologies in today’s market.

Beaconing solutions use the RSSI (received signal strength indicator) methodology for calculating location, which means that positioning calculations are based on received signal strength or power. While this was a significant technical leap when beacons were first introduced, the methodology is limited in the accuracy it can provide, typically about two to ten meters. Although this is perfectly acceptable for many use cases where presence or proximity location is the goal, it is not enough to compete with high-accuracy location systems, possibly needing to offer reliable location in harsh environments as well.

Instead of RSSI methodologies, Bluetooth Direction Finding solutions use calculations based on angular measurements to determine location. This method can robustly handle the challenges posed by radio propagation interference, multipath reflections, and obstructions. This means systems can operate reliably in harsh environments like industrial plants, warehouses, and manufacturing facilities while empowering business and mission-critical operations. The Bluetooth Direction Finding approach also supports higher accuracy, even down to a few centimeters, with the latency of a small fraction of a second. This enables location-based solutions in use cases that truly require precision positioning, low latency, and a high degree of scalability, all at a cost that makes it possible to achieve a compelling return on investment.

 

This article was originally published here

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Quuppa is the leading RTLS platform for indoor positioning

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