In-building Wireless Alliance Investigates Indoor LBS Applications

By Joe Francica

"Think of all of the users – both people as well as assets – who will want to communicate and share information with each other inside a building…the simplest value proposition is just staying connected," says Dr. Anand K. Iyer, Director of PRTM, a global management consulting company, and a key advocate for the In-Building Wireless Alliance (IBWA). "The IBWA is a good example of public/private cooperation, and [represents] a concerted effort to define a common set of requirements for seamless communications inside of a building."

According to a statement released by the IBWA, its mission is "to accelerate the adoption of in-building wireless as a means of unlocking value to all stakeholders of communication and information within a building." One of those key pieces of information is knowledge of the location of critical assets at a moment’s notice. It could be a heart defibrillator or the location of a firefighter, where you not only need to know the person’s position on a certain building floor but also, the exact floor on which he is located (i.e., his elevation above the ground). It is this kind of indoor location-based service that is now being discussed among a broad consortium of companies and organizations who are concerned about public safety and homeland security as well as improving the overall asset value of commercial property.

Common Goals of Stakeholders

Dr. Iyer points to many stakeholders of IBWA: • Wireless operators who maintain the cellular network and who try to solve problems from "the outside in"
• Infrastructure providers: for example, those making distributed antenna systems (DAS) and bi-directional amplifiers (BDA). These companies are likely to move up the value chain by possibly providing applications, such as the location of critical assets.
• Software developers and application providers who see that once the infrastructure is in place, they can then build applications for multi-device communication and information sharing.
• Building automation systems (BAS) providers (e.g., Johnson Controls) who will deploy integrated sensor systems for heating, ventilation and air cooling (HVAC), for example, that can be monitored and controlled remotely
• Local, state and federal governments concerned about homeland security and public safety
• Real estate developers looking to improve the asset value of their property

Dr. Iyer would like alliance partners and others to believe in the possibility that many kinds of devices and people will be able to communicate over a common network. "Think of a continuum from voice to advanced data," he says. In theory, the IBWA hopes to promote cross-platform communication so that anyone within a hospital, for example, should be able to locate a defibrillator, as well as the closest doctor or nurse, to help in an emergency situation.

But will the objectives of the IBWA compete with other location technologies like radio frequency identification (RFID) that are already being tested in similar situations? Iyer thinks that RFID is a complementary technology. "Instead of investing in a separate RFID network, you could only invest in the [RFID] tag, and have that tag talk to the in-building communication infrastructure," he says. "Shared platforms, shared infrastructure…one common network inside a building." In fact, Iyer believes that everything from energy sensors, to cellular devices, to computers could and should share the same communication infrastructure.

Commercial Real Estate Owners Will Benefit from Initiative One of the constituents of the IBWA is the real estate community – the owners of commercial property. "In other places around the world, pervasive wireless is built into the building code," says Iyer. According to the IBWA, the addition of a wireless building infrastructure will increase the overall value of the property as well as allow additional cost savings. Building managers will be able to monitor HVAC conditions remotely and adjust accordingly. For those who are managing a cluster of building automation systems, the value proposition increases proportionally. Iyer believes that even for an industry that is typically slow to realize the gains afforded by technology, the go-to-market strategy with the building community is to show how to create value for tenants that could lead to higher rents.

How Do You Price the Grand Idea?
Knowing how to go to market is one problem. But understanding how to price a common wireless infrastructure for an entire building is just emerging. "The pricing model is the most elusive part of the plan. Building owners like the idea but are hesitant to invest," says Iyer. The return on investment (ROI) may be easier, however, for large companies that maintain a campus of "single-tenant" buildings. "Enterprises and companies will make it part of their IT model. In a single tenant situation, the ROI is easy," Iver states. "For multi-tenant communities, it will be a distributed pricing model among tenant, owner and operator." Iyer believes that the pervasive access to information that a common communication infrastructure will provide is an overwhelming competitive advantage. He feels that the In-Building Wireless Alliance includes a number of "forward thinkers," such as Akridge Properties, ADC Telecom, LGC Wireless, Motorola, Realcomm, Sprint Nextel and PRTM Management Consulting, which are actively working toward offering a common infrastructure platform for in-building wireless application development.

Published Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

Written by Joe Francica

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