Indoor Positioning: Overhyped or Just What LBS Needs?

May 8, 2012  - By
Because LBS Insider’s deadline is this week, CTIA coverage from New Orleans is not included in this month’s column.  Janice Partyka, editor of GPS World’s Wireless Pulse, is covering CTIA in the Crescent City for the latest location-based services, M2M, and connected vehicle news.  So instead of talking about CTIA (and why there aren’t many pure LBS players or sessions there anymore), this column examines the hype surrounding indoor positioning — is it LBS’ savior, or just another technology that may, or may not, pan out?


The location industry will know very soon whether indoor positioning is just another overhyped technology niche — or the needed capability that will drive the largest advertisers and retailers to finally embrace location-based services. Some industry analysts say indoor location may take off in as few as 12 months — particularly if smartphones include the feature in new product offerings.

At several location industry conferences, the obligatory indoor positioning panel is cropping up, leading some to believe that while intentions are good, perhaps the technology hasn’t developed fast enough. The jury is still out on indoor positioning. “It is badly needed, but also needs to be down to the meter-level,” said Ralph Eschenbach of Sand Hill Angels, a venture capital firm, at the recent GPS-Wireless 2012 conference. “The technology is not here yet.”

Another contrarian said that industry segments like automakers need not just show users how to navigate to destination, but give folks information when they near the area. “It would be nice if a BMW told me where’s the cheapest gas,” said Gary Gale, Nokia director of places, location and commerce.

Some analysts, like those at IMS Research, believe that an indoor positioning technology will be from multiple sources — though Wi-Fi has been the primary tech solution. IMS cites reports that say Bluetooth in Nokia’s HAIP can meet the one-meter threshold of accuracy for indoor markets.

IMS said the major indoor positioning players, so far, are Google, Qualcomm, Broadcomm, CSR, Qubulus, Nokia, NextNav, and Path Intelligence.

While intangible benefits such as measuring consumer behavior and shopping experience will be important for retailers and advertisers who are hoping to fund indoor positioning systems, the goal is to drive customers to the stores. This will also be tied into the “what do I do when I get there” answer to the navigation question.

Still, the benefits will be transparent to advertisers once consumers are able to save time, and perhaps money, with indoor positioning capability on their smartphones, said Ankit Agarwal, CEO of indoor positioning company, Micello. “There is definitely a business model for indoor positioning. It enables product search and walking paths throughout a store,” he said. “Stores will be able to track multiple routes folks are interested in taking [through a store].”

Once again, Google seems to be the major player in indoor positioning. LBS Insider reported late last year that Google went indoors with the launch of Google Maps 6.0. The company has attracted some of the big-box retail stores such as IKEA, Macy’s, Home Depot, and Bloomingdales to have their stores mapped. However, a lot of the bigger malls, and Target and Wal-Mart, have not been mapped. The Google product tells customers what floor they are on in a building, but so far is only available for Android.

Google’s indoor mapping partners include 18 U.S. airports, which will open up more partners and LBS relationships in the future.

In other news, but related to indoor positioning and other LBS markets, Greg Tarr, partner at Rogers Venture Partners, said at GPS-Wireless: “There is no privacy…get over it.”

TomTom Launches Global Geocoding Web Service

As GPS World reported, TomTom launched a new volume batch geocoding web service late last month at the Geospatial World Forum in Amsterdam. Geocoding, the process of converting addresses into geographic coordinates to allow location analysis for businesses, is taking on a new twist with the new product.

“This not your father’s geocoding. The turn-around time to download the product will be attractive to companies,” said Dan Adams, TomTom vice president, location and live services. “When I was with GDT and we were acquired by Tele Atlas, it gave us more exposure to global geocoding. Since the TomTom acquisition, there has been a recasting of those products, with the same sort of dynamics, but bringing them to the Cloud.”

What Investors Look for in a Location Company

In a venture capital panel at GPS-Wireless, industry experts basically say that location markets mean more than just navigation now. They also have some strong opinions on the composition and strategies of companies they plan to invest in.

“We notice that some startups don’t have enough engineers,” said Sanjay Subhedar, Storm Ventures managing director.

Other VCs say they look first at the market size of the location niche, but still believe the personality of the company’s management team is important. However, there was no location market segment any VC agreed on; some were sold on the promise of enterprise markets; others believe a strictly consumer play is where the future is.

LBS Insider Covering ITS America Conference

Not a sexy show like CTIA or Telematics Detroit (which is being boosted by the connected car craze, despite its jaw-dropping price to attend), ITS America’s annual meeting this month in the Washington, D.C., area will feature connected vehicle sessions and government programs. Before market-centric conferences as Telematics Detroit and Where 2.0, ITS America, even with its government focus, was the only game in town for companies looking to get into the navigation and location business.

One of these “government programs” traditionally featured at ITS America is distracted driving sessions, which at least one analyst says younger drivers don’t want to be bothered with. “Only 20 percent of young consumers are worried about distracted driving [we found in our studies],” said Thilo Koslowski, Garnter vice president, who also said, unlike what some automakers and analysts believe, that a car is not a “laptop with four wheels.”

LBS Insider will be covering the ITS America annual meeting. If attending, contact us with your story ideas.


This article is tagged with , , and posted in Mobile, Opinions

About the Author:

Kevin Dennehy is GPS World’s editor for location-based services, writing a monthly column for the LBS Insider newsletter. Dennehy has been writing about the location industry for more than 20 years. He covered GPS and location technology for Global Positioning & Navigation News for seven years. His articles on the wireless industry have been published in both consumer and trade magazines and newspapers.

Comments are currently closed.