Businesses in all fields are opening their eyes to the possibilities of continuous and seamless tracking via hybrid RTLS. Eradicating the division between indoor and outdoor positioning via offering seamless tracking experiences will create new value to services. By thinking like an ecosystem, we can even overcome the threat of market fragmentation.
Indoor positioning and its associated services are seriously big business – and they will just get bigger and bigger. According to analysis by Allied Market Research, the indoor positioning market in 2017 was valued at USD 2.4 billion. The same forecast predicts that in 2025 the value will be USD 43.5 billion. That is about the same size as the industries of food processing, recorded music, or management consulting. And the growth surely won’t end there.
There are certain global megatrends that are driving the quick growth of location technologies in areas where GPS is not available. These technologies are often referred to as indoor positioning, or Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS). Smart buildings, smart cities, and the Internet of Things-powered Industry 4.0 mean that positioning is becoming ubiquitous. A massive network of assets, devices and even persons equipped with positioning technology is growing. This is happening in homes, offices, hospitals, factories, warehouses, sports arenas, and everywhere else – all around the globe.
While indoor positioning is being used for more and more purposes, a certain friction has emerged. The source of this friction is actually amazingly simple: in many cases, there is a need to be able to position the same asset both indoors and outdoors. So, thinking of indoor and outdoor positioning as separate entities in their own dedicated silos no longer work. Instead, we are entering the age of hybrid RTLS.
Thinking of indoor and outdoor positioning as separate entities in their own dedicated silos no longer work. Instead, we are entering the age of hybrid RTLS.
Hybrid RTLS: Combining positioning indoors & Outdoors
Hybrid RTLS – or seamless positioning – combines location technologies across different environments so that the Location-Based Service (LBS) application keeps receiving uninterrupted location coordinate updates, for example when an object is moving between indoor and outdoor areas. When new infrastructure technologies and mobile onboard tracking devices enable indoors and outdoors localization, there is no longer any friction between tracking an asset in different environments, the resulting added value will be immense.
For example, global retail frontrunners such as Amazon or Ocado are already basing their businesses on a highly fine-tuned logistics network. But hybrid RTLS can enable even further fine-tuning to boost profits. Outside of the logistics and supply chain realm, improvements can be sought in business areas as varied as on-demand manufacturing, travel, mining, or health care.
Using hybrid RTLS results in increased efficiency, visibility, and certainty. For example, a manager can track an asset as it moves from a supplier’s warehouse onto a logistics partner’s truck and from there to the manager’s own factory. If any bottlenecks arise at any point of the process – whether indoors or outside – they can be spotted, analysed, and ultimately removed.
From Technologies Towards an Ecosystem
Tracking an asset during its journey through multiple environments requires multiple technologies, simply because requirements, availability and costs make one technology suite better than others. One of the most prominent of indoor RTLS technologies so far has been Bluetooth®, with its robust reliability, cost-effectiveness, and global acceptance. In particular, the new Bluetooth Direction Finding methodology has revolutionized the Bluetooth location capability way beyond what was originally possible via the well-known RSSI (power based) measurements. Meanwhile, GPS has dominated positioning outdoors.
While these two technologies might be current leaders in their own fields, they are certainly not the only ones. Wi-Fi, Ultra Wide-band (UWB), RFID, NFC, LoRa and others all have their uses. In reality, no single technology can be enough to also ALL possible use cases across the vertical markets, that is when it comes to bringing hybrid RTLS to the world.
Because unlocking the true benefits of hybrid RTLS requires multiple technologies, using a platform to combine many use cases lowers the cost of integration. Up until now, if a solution provider has wanted to integrate different technologies required for tracking assets indoors and outdoors, they have needed to interface their LBS with several disjointed APIs and systems, possibly even mounting multiple tracking devices on a single asset to be tracked. But by employing a hybrid RTLS solution, a single tracking tag can be tweaked to contain for example Bluetooth and LoRa, and both of these technologies can be accessed and monitored through a single – possibly cloud-based – interface.
The future of RTLS and asset tracking will not be about individual technologies, but about technology platforms – and a wide ecosystem of actors using these platforms.
Partners or Competitors? Both, Please!
At the start of this article, we referred to the estimate of the indoor positioning market becoming a USD 43.5 billion business by 2025. Now, imagine if the implementation barrier between indoors and outdoors no longer existed. That barrier will cease to be, if different actors in the different positions of the RTLS value chain can work together in a shared ecosystem.
We believe in hybrid RTLS – and we believe an ecosystem approach is the right way to achieve it. Already, we are working with a wide variety of solution providers, technology partners, and even competitors to create a platform that benefits everyone using it. The Quuppa Intelligent Locating System™ is one of the key components powering this hybrid world. Solution providers can add value to their own LBS solutions and better serve their own end-customers by combining Quuppa with other complementary Quuppa system technologies.
There is a fear that the biggest obstacle to unleashing the full business potential of RTLS is the fragmentation of the market. Instead, what is needed is an ecosystem model that creates a world of true complementary and open technologies, effectively enabling hybrid RTLS to grow the size of the addressable market. When that happens, the market readiness will leap to a whole new level – and the aforementioned 43.5 will have several zeros after it.