Where High-accuracy Wireless Location is (and isn't) Headed in 2014

January 13, 2014

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Juniper Research has forecast the mobile location-based services market to exceed $12 billion in 2014, driven by increased app store usage, smartphone adoption and new hybrid positioning technologies. These key trends are driving the market and will continue to do so, but other important developments are taking place that will have a significant impact on wireless location in 2014. Chief among these are:

Location analytics will finally gain traction.The NSA scandal of 2013 will not have a significant impact on the use of analytics to determine threats to public safety. Quite the opposite, as we predict that the layering of location analytics (observing where a target is over time) will propel public safety usage and spill over to the commercial sphere. By opting in, subscriber location can be used to serve up offers, drive commerce and provide a better user experience.

Public safety demand will spur new location application and technology development. A high-accuracy wireless location system, deployed prior to a natural disaster, could prove instrumental in helping authorities to alert citizens, locate victims and survivors, and help save lives. Prior to a disaster, the local police or public safety agency can create a geo-fence around the area in danger and identify all mobile devices. This information can be used to warn people and establish a record for post-disaster search efforts. Post-event mass location analytics enables authorities to trace mobile subscribers to see who may have been impacted, and assign first responder resources.

Wireless operators will converge around software-based location solutions, decreasing market fragmentation. As they evolve their networks to 4G LTE, many operators will deploy more robust location capabilities including the standards-based location method called RF Pattern Matching. In hybrid deployments with satellite-based location solutions, location accuracy can be met across all environments without resorting to expensive hardware-based location solutions.

Each of these trends has roots in developments that are already taking place, and point the way forward for the entire industry.

Advances in location analytics fuel law enforcement and other applications

Analytics have been in use by law enforcement for decades, but recently, the government has relaxed restrictions on how federal agencies are able to search, retrieve and store data gathered by government agencies for purposes other than national security threats. Private information on U.S. citizens (e.g. credit card data, travel records) will be stored for five years, and these databases will be subject to data mining – the use of complex algorithms to search for patterns that predict a threat. The reported driver for this was the failure by intelligence agencies to “connect the dots” about the December 2009 “underwear bomber,” despite having intercepted mobile phone communications and field reports on the attacker. With this renewed focus on analytics, law enforcement agencies have an expanded toolbox with which to fight – and often prevent – crime.  

Arguably the most powerful capability that law enforcement agencies can possess is predictive analytics. With this in place, they can identify patterns of behavior of known criminals and selectively deploy resources to try and prevent attacks. By monitoring the location of suspects over a period of time, the security agencies are able to create “heat maps” that identify areas of consistent activity. These are then used by the agencies to assign priority to areas for increased monitoring and to optimally deploy personnel and equipment.  Law enforcement agencies can now predict the location of suspected criminals based on their observed activities during a given time of day, and work to head them off before they attempt an attack. Using high-accuracy location, the security agencies have also gained the ability to track targets. The locations of tracked targets are then compared against existing security databases to further identify suspicious activity and select suspects for increased surveillance or other preventive actions. In some jurisdictions, laws enable surveillance of all targets in a given area for the purposes of fighting crime. One high accuracy location solution, RF Pattern Matching, uniquely supports mass location surveillance of all subscribers on a wireless network. This capability enables them to identify all subscribers in a defined geographic area and is vital to monitor sensitive or highly vulnerable areas within the country.

Public safety is the “killer app” for LBS

The public safety uses of LBS include locating and tracking emergency callers (via E911), locating and tracking public safety officers (called “blue force tracking”), and the monitoring of endangered areas via virtual geofence. These uses are in various stages of acceptance by governments, with some exciting developments happening.

  • High-accuracy indoor location has been trialed by the FCC’s CSRIC and is widely considered to be the answer to stricter FCC mandates around E911 that have already started to take effect. High-accuracy location could be better integrated to provide detailed intelligence for both first responders and emergency callers. For example, when texting 911, similar emergency calls in a given radius could be identified to alert authorities to larger emergencies, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster. Transmitting a geo-tagged photo could help emergency responders locate someone in a crowded sports stadium or shopping mall.
  • Police and other front-line public safety agencies that have been hard hit by budget cuts are looking to improve their results with fewer resources. Some have begun to trial location solutions that enable field officers to be tracked while on duty, increasing their situational awareness and enabling administrators to more efficiently allocate officers to problem areas. Blue force tracking allows law enforcement personnel to be tracked using their mobile devices, independent of mobile device type, after first “opting-in” to overcome any privacy-related objections. Blue force tracking has been trialed by various public safety departments in the U.S., and interest in this application is growing rapidly.
  • The most important role of public safety organizations is to save lives, and LBS provide a vital tool in these efforts. Imagine the scenario of a large storm, such as last year’s Hurricane Sandy, in which forecasters know with some certainty where and when it will hit. Public safety officials could create a geo-fence, a virtual border around a user-defined geographical area, such as lower Manhattan or the New Jersey shoreline, to define the impact area. Once that is done, authorities could identify all mobile devices within the geo-fence and send an email, text or voice alert warning of the storm impact and providing safety instructions. This snapshot would also be useful later as a record of all subscribers who were in the area prior to impact. This information could be used to account for survivors and identify missing persons, and to better focus emergency responses to areas with the most potential casualties.

The case for RF pattern matching

Central to these developments in location technology is an effective, reliable location method, such as the standards-based RF Pattern Matching (RFPM). This network-based positioning method is based on radio link measurements collected from the network and/or the device, and relies on predictions or models of the radio environment against which it performs an algorithmic comparison of the measurements to determine a best match estimation of the device location. In short, it uses the device’s own radio signals to identify its location, eliminating any dependency on satellites or other network hardware. RFPM is able to locate all calls across any air interface and in any environment, eliminating limitations related to the device type or network technology. RFPM works extremely well in non line-of-sight conditions such as dense urban and indoor environments, and is highly reliable for both mission-critical public safety applications as well as commercial deployments.

With proven, reliable technology such as RFPM, an early adopter target market (public safety) that is eager to deploy new location-based services, and a growing awareness on the part of wireless operators that standards-based and network-based location methods are the key to their success, 2014 promises to be a year of growth and innovation for the location industry.


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