The Internet of Things (IoT) is characterized by the interconnectivity of smart devices enabled by modern technology. It is rapidly transforming the business landscape, with the increasing affordability of the technology resulting in a growing network of digital devices that are able to communicate with each other. The digitization of the physical world presents remarkable opportunities for businesses of all types. Among the advantages offered by the IoT revolution, the ability to track locations stands out as one of the most valuable for companies. How, you ask? Having real-time location of assets, be it objects or individuals, enhances the visibility of asset within the business domain which allows optimization of business process to a higher degree that was not possible before.
Post 2010, technologies like BLE, RFID, Wi-Fi, and UWB have created a niche for themselves in real-time location services but what technology standard suits your needs without breaking your back (your business’s back to be precise), is something that needs long deliberations.
The Need for Real-Time Location Tracking?
The need of navigation and correct timing led to the invention of GPS, formerly Navstar global positioning system in 1973 which became fully operational in 1994. So the need to track location has been felt for long and at present tracking assets (objects and individuals) has become a primary concern for many businesses. Having real-time location of assets is detrimental to running many businesses be it logistics or retail that depends on logistics. Businesses like education, healthcare and manufacturing aren’t exceptions to this.
The GPS system uses a constellation of 31 satellites at present to pin point the location of any object or individual equipped with a GPS tracker. Essentially the GPS tracker captures the location of GPS satellites relatively to the object, at any moment and that is how the location of the object is known.
Since its invention, GPS has disrupted the business world and has been used for wide area tracking but it’s marred by limitations when it comes to indoor navigation. Because of the high cost of GPS many inventory managers don’t use GPS and considering the amount of work is done indoor in many businesses, this proved to be a major setback for real-time tracking.
As a low power consuming, more prevalent technology, Bluetooth LE offers a wide range of applications when it comes to tracking employees and resources. The low cost of BLE beacons allows it to be used at places where other technologies such as GPS and UWB were simply not feasible.
What is BLE?
BLE stands for Bluetooth Low Energy which is a wireless personal area network technology, developed on Bluetooth specification 4.0 (2010), used for transmitting data over short distances. It is an AIDC technology which means Automatic Identification and Data Capture i.e. automatically identifying objects and collecting data about them, and displaying that on a computer. BLE is used in AIDC systems to manage inventory, delivery, assets, security and documents.
It is one of the key Radio Frequency (RF) standards for physical asset tracking. It has a maximum range of approx 50m while UWB (Ultra Wide Band) tags can have a range of up to 100m which makes UWB ideal for wide area location tracking needs for large facilities. Other Low Powered Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technologies such as LoRaWAN and Sigfox are also used for location and tracking but have less precise positioning and lower data rates than most other asset tracking technologies.
BLE benefits for real-time location services (RTLS)
Advancements in technology have transformed BLE (Bluetooth beacons) into a powerful localization tool. Companies can now leverage Bluetooth Low Energy beacons in Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) to obtain insights into the movement of people and objects during operational activities. As a result, industries like healthcare, logistics, and manufacturing are benefiting from the significant opportunities offered. Asset tracking enabled by RTLS can help managers improve operational efficiency, make data-driven business decisions, and maximize overall productivity of their organization, contributing to their competitiveness.
BLE has several benefits when it comes to RTLS. Here’s how:
1. As it was developed over the Bluetooth specification, BLE is widely compatible with many devices with Bluetooth such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and wearable devices which means that it can be used in a variety of settings.
2. It is energy-efficient and can operate for long periods of time on batteries or coin cells, which reduces the maintenance and operational costs of the devices.
3. BLE is flexible and scalable as it can be integrated with other technologies such as Wi-Fi, NFC or GPS. It can support multiple connections and data formats as well.
4. It provides precise indoor positioning and tracking capabilities that can be utilized for asset tracking, proximity services, indoor navigation, etc.
5. At places like healthcare facilities, BLE-based RTLS solutions call for less disruption when being installed. It can also use the existing IT infrastructure available at the premises as it is compatible with smartphones which are ubiquitous, and hence save costs.
The reason behind developing BLE, Nokia says, was the motivation to create something that provided all the benefits of Wi-Fi and other short range standards but at low cost and low power consumption. With Bluetooth 5.1 standards, now BLE is quite powerful tool for Periodic Advertising with Responses (PAwR) and extra secure with Encrypted Advertising Data.
BLE can be used for real time location services at low cost as it doesn’t require the extensive set up and deployments that is the case with other technologies like RFID and UWB and GPS which are very costly and work well at large facilities.
- Last updated on May 18, 2023