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Technologies for Server-Based Indoor Positioning Compared: Wi-Fi vs. BLE vs. UWB vs. RFID

Technologies for Server-Based Indoor Positioning Compared: Wi-Fi vs. BLE vs. UWB vs. RFID

There is a wide variety of technologies on which server-based indoor positioning systems can be based. In this blog post, we introduce you to the most common ones – Wi-Fi, BLE, UWB and RFID – and point out benefits and obstacles respectively.


Real-time locating systems (RTLS) are used to automatically identify and track the location of objects or people in real time, usually within a building. Server-based locating systems work with a specific hardware functioning as fixed reference points (infsoft Locator Nodes) that detect wireless signals from tags or devices (e.g. Wi-Fi, UWB or RFID tag, Bluetooth beacon) and transmit them to a server. There, the position is calculated and the data are transferred to an output medium. Applications of RTLS include pallet localization in warehouses, tracking of medical equipment in a clinic, or identification of people for safety and security reasons, just to name a few.

There is a wide variety of technologies on which server-based indoor positioning systems can be based. Let’s have a look at the most common ones – Wi-Fi, BLE, UWB and RFID – and point out benefits and obstacles respectively.

comparison of server-based indoor positioning technologies 

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi-based real-time positioning systems locate and monitor active Wi-Fi devices, such as smartphones, tablets and Wi-Fi tags. The accuracy of Wi-Fi used for server-based indoor localization varies from eight to 15 meters – depending on the preconditions.

Benefits:
ability to track all Wi-Fi-enabled devices, ability to monitor visitor behavior, large range (up to 150m)
Obstacles:
difficult to achieve the level of precision afforded by BLE or RFID , high latencies and use of randomized MAC address when device is not connected to Wi-Fi network
Use recommendations:
tracking solutions where analysis of motion profiles is desired (e.g. for event locations)


Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons

Beacons are small wireless devices that broadcast signals using Bluetooth Low Energy, also known as Bluetooth Smart. They are relatively cheap, can run on button cells up to more than five years and have a maximum range of 75 meters. Accuracy is typically less than eight meters. Beacons come in all kinds of different formats, are scalable and highly portable.

Benefits:
flexibility, cost efficiency
Obstacles:
attenuations in the signal dispersion within buildings, instability with layout changes and radio interferences
Use recommendations:
indoor tracking solutions without near perfect precision needs


Ultra-wideband (UWB)

Ultra-wideband is a short-range radio technology. The accuracy is less than 30 cm, which is considerably better than when working with beacons or Wi-Fi. Also, height differences can be measured accurately.

Benefits:
high accuracy, low latency times with position updates up to 100 times/second, almost no interferences
Obstacles:
higher cost and shorter battery lifetime than BLE beacons
Use recommendations:
tracking solutions in industrial environments with high precision needs and modest number of assets


RFID

RFID is a form of wireless communication that uses radio waves to identify objects. Passive RFID technology works only in the proximity of specialized RFID readers (infsoft Locator Node, functioning as a power source for RFID tags), providing a 'point-in-time' location.

Benefits:
very high accuracy, very immune to interferences, no battery needed
Obstacles:
short range (less than one meter), installation requires significant planning, infrastructure can be expensive
Use recommendations:
tracking solutions with large number of tags (e.g. in logistics, distribution and inventory management)


Conclusion

Unfortunately, no single solution is a silver bullet for creating a RTLS that fits all possible needs. Usually, finding the most suitable technology requires evaluating what you are trying to achieve, the conditions on site, and your budget. Often, the most efficient solution is a combination of techniques.

Check out this use case which illustrates the use of UWB, complemented with RFID.
You can find a comparison of technologies for client-based indoor positioning here.


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