Everyone wants a piece of the pie, the upcoming indoor location pie. Big companies and start-ups are engaged, some in research, others having launched solutions. While Wi-Fi is the most common technology, many companies are pursuing alternate methods, including GPS, audio, Bluetooth, small cell/cellular, distributed antenna systems (DAS), near field communication (NFC), white band, sensors, movement tracking, beacons, and more. Of the large players who are making a play for the indoor market, Cisco, Google, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Qualcomm, RIM, and TCS are the furthest along, reports Grizzly Analytics.
At a minimum, indoor technology will do what we do outside and enable GPS-style mapping, navigation, local search, check-ins, location-sharing, and other location-based services. An explosion of other uses will evolve, enabling search for items on store shelves, sending deals, and contextual advertising. This newsletter issue is devoted to looking at smaller companies, those not listed above, many start-ups competing for their piece of the pie.
A pool of smaller indoor companies is focused on creating positioning technology, many ripe for acquisition. Navizon, sensewhere, and SkyHook are betting on unique approaches to determining indoor location position. No longer solely focused on driving the streets to map Wi-Fi signals, Skyhook has adopted a comprehensive approach to indoor location, integrating multiple technologies (GPS, Wi-Fi, cell, and sensor-based) to ascertain location, a solution that offers the advantage of flexibility. Navizon is focused on Wi-Fi signals, currently the most popular solution for indoor location. There are sometimes existing Wi-Fi nodes, but added nodes can usually be fairly easy to install. From a business standpoint, the downside of Wi-Fi positioning is the large number of competitors focused on solutions. sensewhere is pursuing an entirely crowd-based software offering that locates and cross-references publically broadcast information, including MAC addresses, from consumer devices. It is the easiest solution. No infrastructure is required, but it requires a certain density of devices.
I’ve asked Navizon, sensewhere, and Skyhook to write, in their words, about their company, technology and perspective on the industry:
Navizon – In Their Own Words. “Navizon Indoor Triangulation System (I.T.S.) uses Wi-Fi signals to provide indoor location throughout a building or campus. Navizon designed this system to locate users of smartphones, tablets and laptops, all of whom rely heavily on Wi-Fi. This real-time locating system’s infrastructure uses small, easily deployable nodes connected through a mesh network. No wiring or software installation, and only minimal configuration, are required. The administration dashboard is an online interface to Navizon’s cloud. Integration is through a web services API. This design delivers an affordable indoor location platform, with room and floor-level accuracy, up and running in a single day.” Cyril Houri, Navizon
sensewhere – In Their Own Words. “sensewhere technology automatically locates and cross-references RF access points via user devices to create an almost limitless proprietary, reliable, live, global RF location database. The solution does not require additional infrastructure installation nor calibration or re-calibration when the venue’s RF infrastructure changes. sensewhere technology is powered by patented algorithms that dynamically adapt to indoor environments to optimize the use of mobile device resources. Commercial benefits have been demonstrated in the largest shopping malls around the world where more than half of RF infrastructure can change within a few months.” Rob Palfreyman, sensewhere
SkyHook – In Their Own Words. “Location technology company Skyhook, provides seamless operation of indoor and outdoor mobile device positioning using integrated GPS, Wi-Fi, cell, and sensor-based positioning technologies. Venues have been hesitant to get involved with indoor location due to concerns over control of their data, cost of initial deployment, cost of maintenance, accuracy and consistency of the technology, and availability to deploy on a large variety of devices. Skyhook is involved in industry efforts to provide venue owners the ability to manage their infrastructure data in a consistent, standardized way that addresses both the technical and business needs.” Ronda Billings, Skyhook
Positioning technology is of limited use without indoor venue maps, which might include shopping malls, arenas, convention centers, and hospitals. Retail is very interested in being able to direct people into their stores, to a particular aisle, or even shelf location. Meridian, Micello, and Point Inside have distinct approaches. Micello creates indoor maps by using data found in public domain; their customers are not the venues, but the developer community. Meridian creates indoor maps based on maps drawn by customers and adds navigation and points of interest. At its start, Point Inside had a similar focus, indoor map creation, but has since integrated positioning data and added an ad network to its solution. Point Inside is targeted to retailers.
I’ve asked Meridian, Micello, and Point Inside to write, in their words, about their companies, technology, and perspective on the industry:
Meridian – In Their Own Words. “Meridian is focusing on providing software to allow employees of a location-based business to create an indoor way-finding app for visitors. The system enables a customer to upload maps (CAD, etc.) that are then converted into vector files. Points of interest and turn-by-turn directions can be generated. The turn-by-turn directions can work with any wireless connectivity, from basic 3G to more sophisticated Wi-Fi systems. Indoor venues can achieve a GPS-like experience — that ‘glowing blue dot on the map’ — some are seeking. Meridian is seeing adoption from retailers, hotels and hospitals.” Jeff Hardison, Meridian
Micello – In Their Own Words. “Micello is a provider of indoor venue maps, including shopping malls, airports, college campus buildings, hospitals, retail stores, casinos, and stadiums in over half-a-dozen countries throughout the world. Micello uses proprietary, in-house mapping and navigation tools combined with map-manufacturing tools and dashboards. The technology ingests various sources of data and information about a given venue to create a well-defined, structured set of indoor map data. In the next 36 months, every building will have an app and mapping technology, integrated with positioning technology. Information will be automatically sorted and organized for users based on where they are located inside.” Ankit Agarwel, Micello
Point Inside – In Their Own Words. “Point Inside provides retailers with detailed indoor maps, exact product location, and dynamic shoppers locations to help stores engage with in-store customers. The user’s shopping list, which is entered into the application, enables high-converting, hyper-targeted advertising. With indoor location technologies advancing too quickly to pick a single winner, Point Inside uses proprietary algorithms to combine results from multiple location technologies to determine the most accurate fix. Primary technologies include: proprietary Wi-Fi fingerprinting, motion sensing to determine movement from known locations (such as product locations); partnership with other location providers; and correlation with indoor maps to determine valid locations.” Todd Sherman, Point Inside
How does this shake out? It is too early to tell. In the coming year, I expect the indoor location market will be better formed. Consolidation will occur. Some companies will drop out and others will be purchased. Grizzly Analytics suggests eBay, Local.com, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, GroupOn, TI, Qualcomm, CSR, Google, foursquare, and Google are all shopping or looking for strategic alliances to develop indoor location offerings. Time will tell who eats pie.