Applying Location-Based Services over WLANs

More and more companies are now beginning to apply location-based services
over WLANs to enable some rather interesting enhancements to applications. In
general, a location-based system (LBS) keeps track of the position of users
on the network as they roam through the facility. A centralized system collects
and integrates this position information to drive additional functions that
identify the position of users in relation to the facility and pertinent areas,
such as information booths, emergency centers, stores, products, etc.

Let’s take a closer look at how LBSs can offer value in various industries.

Healthcare

Within healthcare facilities, doctors, nurses, and sometimes patients, are
very mobile. As a result, many hospitals have wireless LANs to support patient
monitoring, electronic patient records, and narcotics tracking. In this situation,
an LBS can also track doctors throughout the hospital, which enables a nurse
to know if a particular doctor is nearby and able to take care of a specific
emergency.

In addition, an LBS enables hospital staff to track the whereabouts of patients,
and if they go astray or anything adverse happens to them, an alarming system
will alert the closest doctors and nurses. For example, some homes for the elderly
implement LBSs over wireless LANs to trigger an alarm when patients try to
leave.

In addition to people, hospitals need to track expensive equipment that is
often required to save lives. A LBS enables hospital administration to know
the exact location of this equipment for accountability and usability purposes.
If a nurse needs a specific portable x-ray machine in the emergency room, stat,
the LBS can display where to find it.

Retail

Department stores and shopping malls can reap huge benefits from location-based
systems. A customer can use their PDA to download an interactive store map and
find the exact location of any item in the store. By entering a few search terms,
the PDA can offer descriptions and directions to any products sold within the
store.

This same concept also applies to shopping malls. A wireless LAN can cover
the entire parking lot and inside of a large shopping mall, and customers using
a wireless PDA are able to more easily find stores. Once a customer is in the
mall, a real-time map constantly shows the shopper where each store is in relation
to his/her position. The LBS can also send promotions from specific stores as
the shopper passes them by.

Public Areas

A LBS also provides convenience to people in large public areas. In a convention
center, for example, a wireless user can take advantage of moving maps that
identify meeting rooms, position of vendors on a tradeshow floor, and emergency
exits in relation to the position of the user.

As a patron using a wireless PDA passes a specific display case at a museum,
an LBS can download voice and possibly video information describing the contents
of the display. The user can move about the museum and receive location-based
information, which enhances the learning and enjoyment of the visitor.

Similar to a convention center, wireless users within an airport can also easily
find their way around using an LBS solution. For example, the LBS can display
routes to various locations, such as restaurants, coffee shops, and emergency
exits. Tenants within the airport can also display location-aware advertisements,
which offer the airport a revenue stream for advertising in addition to network
access.

Security

An LBS system can make the job of security guards immensely easier. The security
control room can constantly track the position of every guard, alerting them
when there is an incident occurring in their area. All of this traverses the
wireless LAN. Of course this means that the wireless LAN requires enhanced
security
mechanisms to ensure this information is not available to thieves.

Stay tuned! In future tutorials, we’ll take a closer look at what to consider
when choosing an LBS that operates over a wireless LAN.

Jim Geier provides independent consulting services to companies
developing and deploying wireless network solutions. He is the author of the
book, Wireless LANs and
offers computer-based
training
focusing on wireless LANs.

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