Location-based WIFI as the next step


It’s time to go beyond thinking of WIFI access points as single entities. It’s time to go the next step and leverage access points as part of a location-aware network.

Here’s the thing: Access points broadcast and receive signals omni-directionally. That’s fine for many situations. You want coverage in as many places as you can from a single point. However, drop by any apartment building or maybe even your own home or office, and there are sure to be lots of WIFI signals eminating from the area.

In these signal crowded areas even if you did supply an open network for visitors or customers, who would know which network to join? Good naming is OK, but the issue suggests a solution that partially solves the public network issues but also provides other opportunities too. It’s all about multiple access points working as a location-aware based network.

Here’s the idea in a nutshell: Let’s say you want to provide open WIFI to those in your store. And I mean inside your store. Not the store next door. Not those standing out front blocking the door. Just the customers indoors. You can’t easily do this right now. Yes, you can have public networks, but they can look like any other network. If instead we had location-aware public networks that our devices are tuned to, we could readily separate out the private from the public. And as long as networks spaces don’t overlap, you can only be in one place at a time, so you’re only going to be concerned about one network. Joining a private network will take an extra step. A public one shouldn’t.

Location is King. Not the signal. Especially in public.

Don’t misunderstand. This idea isn’t about creating the ultimate security feature. It would be defeatable. You could spoof location. However, for the baseline system it provides one more way to better manage public access. A doctor might provide one public network for its waiting area and let’s say another for current patients in a chemo room. Other office networks wouldn’t even appear, because by definition they aren’t open, because they’re not location aware.

And then let’s take something like a school room as an alternative twist. One room could have access turned on, another off. Same goes for an office building. Maybe open WIFI is only available in certain conference rooms or the lobby. Everywhere else it’s not available.

Notice how an approach like this changes WIFI usage from the user’s perspective. When you visit a store, you know the WIFI is coming from that store. When you visit a doctor’s office, you know it’s coming from that office.

When you walk into an area you won’t see a slew of WIFI networks that you don’t have the passwords for anyway and you may never be sure who’s providing what.

To me, it’s not just about easier managed public access. A location-aware system like this opens up new possibilities for all kinds of devices. How? By leveraging parts of this system we could have the backbone of indoor positioning systems that any WIFI-based device (ranging from cameras to Robots) could use to determine its exact location and heading within the access points.

We already have crude indoor positioning systems, but bring in the ability to measure a device’s location within inches and heading within degrees and you have some new possibilities with intelligently tagging content as I’ve blogged before. This could be a huge game changer in organizing indoor generated content and yes, search.

How would this work? I’ll defer to the EEs. To work well, it would require some changes to how the radios currently operate. But with the right silicon you have some very interesting and practical possibilities.

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14 years ago

I knew people who were already working on micro geo location with Bluetooth 7 years ago. Although their goal was to do locate people in supermarket (think consumer behavior data mining), it did not float.

For location determination I believe more in GPS systems with an inertial system. Wireless signals especially Wi-Fi signals are just too unreliable. Or for a robot why bother with Wi-Fi, just use it as any other fixed signal source.

For Restricted geographic wireless zones, you can:
-Use the 60 GHz range spectrum. It’s absorbed by the air so it radiates only a couple of meters.
-Use a frequency that is absorbed by building construction material: wood-metal in US, concrete-bricks in Europe and Asia.

14 years ago

Indoor location systems are nothing new–although no one has yet to get it right in terms of a product that can be successful in the marketplace.

A spread spectrum approach is probably the only way to really assure a reliable system in the varied and reflective world we live in. Depending on the desired resolution and the practical indoor range required you’re talking about certain frequencies/signals too. So implicit to my post, WIFI as we know it would change too. That’s not a bad thing. Anyone that’s tried to assemble a WIFI network with lots of access points can attest to this. As I mention, the WIFI-based mesh would then also double as a location based system for other devices. That could be very interesting. But I’d still go back to the motivation that it could help improve the public WIFI issue by simplifying the experience for the user.

In terms of your super market example, yep, that’s where something like this could really sing.

From a Robotics angle I’ve worked on a variety of indoor positioning systems, some radio based, some IR based, some laser based, some visual based. It’s a hard problem. However, when someone figures it out, I think it’s going to be a game changer.

Right now, I’m thinking the “solution” is a radio-based one, made practical in silicon, and integrated with WIFI to enable broad value.

14 years ago

Basically there are two side of the Micro Location:
1 the system knows where the users are
2 the users want to know where they are

I did not understand at first your idea was number one. It would be the access points who would locate the user’s laptops and based on their location advertize them self and allow them to connect. This is solvable as proprietary location layer can be added to router by a manufactures that would allow them to do a cooperative triangulation of the users. But privacy legislation will probably prevent you from doing this in Europe and some other parts of the world. I America I even believe some would make interactive advertisement in the shop alleys that would adapt to your credit score as you walk by.

The second side is the one interesting most the users. Where is my product in a shopping mall, where are my friends, what can I visit?… The best examples I have seen in this category with WIFI, is a hotspot in a shop and their homepage pops up when the user connects to it. I know a bookshop where they did this, they recycled their online book search app so you can use your UMPC or cell phone to search books in their database over their WIFI while sitting in the alleys and not having to queue for the computer kiosk.
WIFI could help in non precise indoor location: just let the admin be able to include 3D GPS coordinates of the location of the router in its beacon. A reasonable estimate of your location is them the coordinates of the closest hotspot.

For robots there are much more issues, not only they need to know where they are but they need also to find out them self what is around them (collision avoidance). But this is not the urgent problem, the real problem is on how to make them do the dishes and the laundry.