It has been an interesting month for developments in location. Nokia is looking for a buyer for HERE, the mapping and navigation business that once set the industry gold standard. While carriers are planning how they will comply with new FCC mandates for locating indoor E911 calls, the commercial indoor location market has moved beyond “emerging” and is well underway. It is a confusing ecosystem for buyers of indoor location solutions. And there is yet another mega-entry into the connected vehicle market, Alibaba and China’s SAIC Motor.
With the likely merger of Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia has started looking for a buyer for its digital map and LBS division. The mapping industry has changed dramatically since Nokia purchased the mapping leader Navteq in 2007. Google has become a mapping juggernaut, and less accurate free maps have become serviceable for many types of uses. In fall 2014, Nokia took a EUR1.2-billion impairment charge on HERE’s book value and now estimates the fair value for HERE at EUR2 billion. Possible buyers include Google, Microsoft, Apple and Uber, all companies with deep pockets and hardy appetites.
Indoor Location Market Is Messy. The indoor location market is pulling away from the station, as technology is ready and there are applications and use cases primed to get started. Unfortunately, the market is chaotic, teaming with companies offering solutions with various levels of accuracy, infrastructure requirements and cost. An ideal indoor location technology would provide at least 3-meter accuracy, be cost effective and fully universal, working anywhere on all devices. It doesn’t exist, but the competing technologies, all with trade-offs, will find applications that fit. For instance, the precision required in locating an apartment in the case of an E911 emergency call differs greatly from the pinpoint accuracy need by an app that directs a shopper to Lucky Charms cereal on an aisle crowded with boxes.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All. There is more to an indoor location technology than accuracy. “Accuracy is important, but so is universality, the ability to work everywhere and in all phones. So is cost, in terms of the investment required from a site deploying the technology,” asserts Bruce Krulwich of Grizzly Analytics. “Universal technologies can win in the market even if they’re less accurate, and technologies with cheaper infrastructure can win even if they’re less accurate than those with expensive infrastructure. High-end systems can deliver sub-meter accuracy to those willing to pay for it.” Grizzly Analytics just completed a comprehensive report on the indoor location market.
Test First. Each of the numerous companies vying for the indoor location market makes claims regarding accuracy, availability/coverage, latency and battery usage. Judicious companies that invest in indoor location systems would be wise to test the claims of vendors. “Making a fair comparison among different indoor location offerings is complex, and nuances in how the testing is performed need to be controlled to ensure an apple-to-apple comparison,” asserted Khaled Dessouky of ComVerity. “It is important to use an unbiased methodology that relates to your use cases.” Dessouky managed the neutral test bed for the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) for indoor E911 calls.
Quuppa. An interesting highly accurate offering comes from Quuppa, a Finnish company with a bunch of high caliber researchers spun off from Nokia. Like some others, they are using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons, but add angle of arrival (AOA) algorithms that pump up the precision, which they self-report to be 30 centimeters to 1 meter. With this performance, Quuppa has been used in sports to track hockey pucks and athletes’ movements during game play for coaching, player load monitoring and infotainment that can be broadcast during the game. The use of this type of high-precision location in health care settings is compelling. Patient flow management, security and critical asset tracking can be improved with precise positioning technology. Quuppa is a system that likely wouldn’t be used in apps that locate a coffee shop at a mall, but for uses that demand high performance and can spare some expense, it is compelling.
And Yet Another Mega Entry. The number of companies vying for a piece of the connected-car market keeps expanding and getting more international. E-commerce giant Alibaba and SAIC Motor, China’s popular car maker, together set up a $160 million fund to develop “car on the Internet.” Alibaba will be leveraging its communications, entertainment, map and cloud-computing services. The company joins a group that includes Google, Apple, Baidu and Uber in challenging auto makers.