Indoor positioning solutions guide

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Here’s an overview of the best solutions in the market and the important considerations when evaluating needs and formulating a plan to implement these technologies.

Over the last few years, indoor positioning technology has taken off and attracted a lot of excitement across many industries – from retailers to healthcare – about the opportunity to improve efficiency, reduce costs and increase revenues with indoor location-based services (LBS). This has led information technology (IT) leaders to grapple with another new dimension. This is particularly challenging because, as with any major new emerging technology, indoor positioning is undergoing rapid evolution along multiple competing paths.

Here’s an overview of current technologies:

There are five basic approaches to solving the problem of indoor positioning that have been evolving rapidly – and gradually starting to converge – over the last several years.

1. Wi-Fi fingerprinting

A software-only, device-based approach that reads the digital signatures of the Wi-Fi network.

Pros: device-based software only, low cost and easy to calibrate
Cons: not accurate or reliable enough on its own

2. Geomagnetic fingerprinting

This approach has been pioneered by IndoorAtlas, which uses smartphone’s built-in sensors, and natural variations of the geomagnetic field as a map to pinpoint locations indoors.

Pros: device-based software only, low cost and easy to calibrate
Cons: not accurate or reliable enough on its own

3. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons

BLE beacons are sensors that transmit a signal and can be placed around a venue. A mobile device can pick up the BLE signal and determine that it is in close proximity. A mobile app that uses this technology can be used in interesting ways to interact with the end user, such as notifying customers about product promotions in close range. Companies such as Apple and Google use this technology.

Pros: low cost and low maintenance
Cons: requires deployment and maintenance of beacons approximately every 20 metres throughout any part of the building where positioning is desired

4. Handset sensor fusion

This involves accessing and combining data from multiple sensors on the phone such as the compass, gyroscope, in addition to Wi-Fi fingerprinting and/or BLE beacons, and applying sophisticated algorithms and techniques to fuse these into an optimal estimate of the device’s position.

Pros: device-based software only, low cost and easy to calibrate
Cons: good for use in some cases, but not reliable enough on its own for indoor navigation

5. Cisco Mobility Services Engine (MSE)

A network-based approach that leverages an array of techniques to position all devices connecting or visible to the network, not just smartphones.

Pros: a true Enterprise solution, addressing infrastructure security and management
Cons: accuracy and refresh rates currently only suitable for some cases

The inflection point is rapidly approaching for indoor positioning

Last year saw four developments that represent quantum leaps forward for the mass deployment of indoor positioning technologies and adoption by users of indoor location-based services.

1. The embrace of BLE by both Apple and Google

With the release and characteristically effective promotion of its iBeacon standard, Apple made BLE legitimate and highlighted its strengths. After further assessment, Google followed suit and embraced BLE support in Android 4.2 and 4.3 (JellyBean).

The key impact of this is that now highly accurate, handset-based indoor positioning solutions are available across both the iPhone operating system (iOS) and Android. Moreover, Apple iBeacons are seeing rapid acceptance in retail, which should put to rest any concerns from other enterprise verticals.

2. Apple’s integration of indoor positioning into iOS 8.0

In 2014, Apple announced that its own indoor positioning technology is now built in to iOS 8.0. This uses handset sensor-fusion technology, with no BLE beacons, from a company called WiFiSlam, which Apple purchased in 2013. While we at Connexient still believe that beacons are part of a reliable solution, the widespread availability of at least baseline indoor positioning in iOS 8 will, in our view, greatly accelerate user interest in and demand for indoor positioning and LBS.

3. Cisco’s roadmap for Mobility Services Engine (MSE)

Since 2013, Connexient has been working with Cisco to gain an understanding roadmap for the indoor positioning performance of Cisco MSE. And starting with the just released MSE version 8.0, Cisco is rolling out a credible, comprehensive path over the next 12 to 18 months that will deliver highly accurate and low latency (i.e. high refresh rates) indoor positioning. This will be a true enterprise solution for not only indoor navigation, but also the entire range of indoor location-based services that will drive value and return on investment (ROI).

4. Google’s Project Tango

Project Tango is a collaborative effort (along the lines of Android) driven by Google that looks promising. It is being delivered first as a smartphone that is able to scan the world around it in real time, using a variety of sensors to make over 250,000 measurements every second. The phone is able to both map the space around it in three dimensions, and simultaneously know its position, rotation and heading in space with an accuracy of centimetres – all in real time.

While Project Tango will enable future smartphones to position themselves, in the short-term the biggest impact will be in enabling rapid, incredibly accurate indoor mapping of buildings.

We believe that these four waves of innovation mark the inflection point in the market for the widespread adoption of enterprise indoor location-based services.

What’s the best solution for indoor location-based services?

The answer depends on your organisation’s needs and objectives for indoor location-based services. Up until recently, there were separate technologies and strategies for indoor positioning, but now they are starting to converge – or at least be used in combination when needed.

Connexient develops applications and use cases for digital wayfinding and indoor navigation that require strong indoor positioning performance. Let’s focus here. Why? Because this is where you find the most value for the end user and the highest ROI for the enterprise.

First, let’s define the three levels of indoor positioning quality that are relevant to our solutions.

  • Location-enhanced wayfinding

This solution can answer the basic question: where am I? It must do this accurately and quickly enough to be actionable; i.e. a user actively navigating a venue can make useful decisions.

  • Location-enhanced routing

Here, the indoor positioning accuracy and refresh rates are sufficient to be dynamically integrated into route visualisation so that the users can be actively guided and shown when they are off track.

  • Indoor navigation

This is the Holy Grail. It requires superb accuracy to support three key capabilities:

  • driving the route visualisation; i.e. the camera view of the route
  • anticipating and providing audio and visual prompts for upcoming turns and actions, and
  • providing highly accurate visual confirmation to the user about their current location.

Indoor positioning technologies

Over several years, we have tested all of these solutions in one way or another. We believe that the following two are the most viable solutions today, with a hybrid, step-by-step approach being the best for enterprise clients:

1. Handset-based sensor fusion + BLE beacons

While iBeacons are fine for proximity-based interactions and engagement, they are not suitable on their own for wayfinding or navigation. For that, the additional capability of handset sensor fusion is critical to provide continuous, accurate and reliable positioning. This combined approach, based on our tests, is yielding outstanding positioning performance.


  • high accuracy and high refresh rates: one to two metres, sub-second refresh frequency
  • flexible – can work with Wi-Fi fingerprinting alone for Android and without any outside inputs where there are gaps in either Wi-Fi or BLE beacon coverage
  • relatively low-cost – under $10,000 (about $50 to $70 per beacon) including installation and calibration per one million square feet; the annual licence fees, though modest, vary based on the vendors
  • easy to install – beacons are about the size of a matchbox
  • easy to calibrate – a few hours or a few days depending on the size of the facility
  • easy to maintain – between two-five year battery life, and
  • easy to integrate – good software development kits (SDK).


  • requires BLE beacons to maintain consistent accuracy
  • in effect, it is a new wireless network to manage
  • short range – about 20 to 30 metres maximum, and
  • low energy – will not penetrate walls, metal etc.

The bottom line

BLE beacons combined with handset-based sensor fusion is the most accurate, reliable and robust technology solution for quality indoor positioning available today – as long as you only need to position smartphones and tablets.

Recommended solutions: Polestar ( and Senion Labs (

2. Cisco Mobility Services Engine (MSE)

Cisco Mobility Services Engine (MSE), which is part of the Cisco Connected Mobile Experiences (CMX) platform, brings an entirely different, network-based approach to indoor positioning. While the current performance of MSE is not comparable to Sensor Fusion + BLE, there are important advantages to this approach for enterprise clients.

The latest MSE 8.0 release, with a FastLocate module add-on for 3600 and 3700 APs, is now sufficient for Location-Enhanced Wayfinding. Today, Enterprise clients can supplement Cisco MSE with handset sensor fusion + BLE to get quality indoor wayfinding today.

The key data points (for baseline requirements) are: MSE version 8.0, 3600 or 3700 Series Aps, and associated requirements for PI (Prime Infrastructure) version.


  • enterprise solution – Cisco has considered and continues to think through and address all the broader enterprise IT issues of wireless network management, including device/tag management, minimising or eliminating interference, security and unified management
  • improving rapidly – Cisco’s future roadmap is set to improve the accuracy and refresh rates suitable for indoor navigation and all other indoor LBS use cases, and
  • trusted partner – Cisco’s brand name is its credibility.


  • accuracy – five to seven metres; not suitable for indoor navigation, but very useful for location-enhanced wayfinding
  • latency – starting with MSE 8.0, notifications and refresh rates can be reduced to approximately 10 seconds
  • deployment – requires high access point (AP) density; accuracy is highly dependent on the right density, location, calibration and other factors
  • cost – usually more expensive than BLE solutions, but depends on what APs and coverage are already in place.

The bottom line

Starting with MSE Version 8.0, Cisco CMX is a real option for an enterprise seeking to deploy indoor positioning solutions for location-enhanced wayfinding. An enterprise that wants navigation-quality indoor positioning today should supplement their current Cisco Wi-Fi and MSE infrastructure with handset-based sensor fusion plus BLE beacons. Alternatively, it could lay the foundation and address user needs now with stand-alone indoor mapping and digital wayfinding, and plan its indoor LBS infrastructure around the Cisco MSE roadmap, starting with MSE 8.0 and 3600 or 3700 Series APs.

How to get started

The good news is that any enterprise solution that wants to provide anything from location-enhanced wayfinding to true indoor navigation can do so right now. While there considerations and decisions to weigh in, and deployments to be carefully planned, there are no barriers to begin to leverage indoor positioning to provide a great visitor experience, improve operational efficiency, and reduce lost revenues.

The key is to first evaluate the enterprise’s needs and objectives for indoor positioning accuracy. If indoor navigation is the goal and the need is short-term, then BLE + sensor fusion is the best choice, and if location-enhanced routing or location-enhanced wayfinding are good enough to start, then you can look at Wi-Fi fingerprinting alone, or a Cisco MSE as part of a broader network upgrade.

Geoff Halstead is the chief product officer of Connexient.

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