Industry Insights

What is Indoor Positioning?

A business explanation and example IoT applications.

Calum McClelland
July 7, 2020

Indoor positioning (also called indoor tracking) is a means of automatically knowing where people and things are inside buildings. Just as the Global Positioning System (GPS) created entirely new business opportunities and fundamentally transformed how businesses operate and created entirely new business opportunities, so too will Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS) transform businesses in the next decade.

Businesses that take advantage of IPS will be empowered to decrease costs, gain critical insights, provide better customer service, and ensure compliance with laws. Businesses that don’t take advantage of IPS will likely be left behind.

But what exactly is indoor positioning? It’s a tough question to answer because IPS is more a concept than it is a specific technology. Although GPS uses the same technology regardless of the application, indoor positioning has many different approaches and underlying technologies that have various tradeoffs.

I won’t be diving too deeply into how the different approaches and underlying technologies work (check out this excellent Indoor Positioning eBook if you’re interested). In this series, I’ll instead focus on:

  • How you should think about indoor positioning from a business perspective
  • Key questions to ask when evaluating IoT solutions
  • Example indoor positioning IoT applications

Indoor Positioning From a Business Perspective

To build a technology solution, you first need to clearly understand: what is the actual problem you’re solving? Too often, businesses become enamoured with a particular technology or solution and lose sight of the fundamental need(s) that they’re trying to address.

When it comes to indoor positioning systems, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution right now. Every IPS comes with inherent tradeoffs in cost, operational overhead, accuracy, precision, latency, and more. So you first need to ask yourself, what are you trying to accomplish?

The Four Applications of Indoor Positioning Systems

At a high level, there are four things you might be trying to accomplish, which represent the four fundamental applications of indoor positioning systems:

  1. Finding: The ability to know where a given thing/person is in real-time, so you can go find it/them
  2. Tracking: The ability to gain insight into how things/people move through a process, so you can identify bottlenecks and/or improve customer service
  3. Preventing: The ability to trigger alerts when things enter/leave certain areas, so you can prevent loss and theft
  4. Measuring: The ability to gain insight into how things/spaces are being used, so you can ensure compliance with laws and/or optimize how those things/spaces are used

These four applications aren't mutually exclusive and your business may want a combination of the above. However, these applications serve as a useful conceptual framework for understanding indoor positioning solutions so you can ask the right questions and determine what technological approach is best.

In the following posts, I’ll take explore these four fundamental applications when it comes to indoor positioning, including key questions you should ask and examples of IoT use cases for each:

  1. Finding Things & People with Indoor Positioning Systems
  2. Tracking Things & People with Indoor Positioning Systems
  3. Preventing Loss & Theft with Indoor Positioning Systems
  4. Measuring Occupancy with Indoor Positioning Systems

Calum McClelland

Chief Operating Officer

Calum graduated from Brown University with a major in Philosophy. Striving to change himself and the world for the better, Calum values active living, life-long learning, and keeping an open mind.

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