New Finds in Real-Time Location

The Wi-Fi Real-Time Location Services (RTLS) market is on fire with new announcements this week, many coming out of the location-heavy needs of the healthcare industry as shown at the HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) Annual Conference & Exhibition in New Orleans through March 1.

First up is AeroScout, with new Wi-Fi tracking tags. The T3 tags have a new, flatter shape they call “credit card” rugged, and consume less power than previous versions, with up to four years of battery life. The tags use both RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indication) and TDOA (Time Difference of Arrival) to be located by the software running on the wireless LAN. If anyone tries to tamper with the T3, it will send an alert across the network. There’s two buttons on it for calling and alerting people. The company also announced a major hospital deployment (with partners Cisco and Emergin) at the University Hospital of Ghent in Belgium. Aeroscout, which is based mainly in Israel, received $21 million in its C round of venture capital, for a total of $55.5 since it was founded as BlueSoft in 1999.

Ekahau, which announced its own new tags last week (complete with tiny text screen) announced at the show a partnership with Nortel Networks. The Ekahau Positioning System software and tags will be coupled with the Nortell WLAN 2300 series for customers. Ekahau also offers a software “tag” to put on devices like laptops to make them equally trackable. (Nortel has also upgraded the voice capabilities and intrusion protection of its equipment.)

PanGo Networks upgraded its RTLS software, the PanOS Platform, to version 4.5. They may be one of the first to embrace more than just Wi-Fi for tracking, however. PanOS will support infrastructure using 802.15.4 radios (the kind used for ZigBee controls), plus ultrawideband (which could provide accuracy down to the inch) and even infrared. 802.11a/b/g will continue to be supported (11n is on the roadmap for the future).

PanGo upgraded its tags to a third generation a few weeks ago, bringing all the players offering 802.11b/g tags up to speed. PanGo’s tag should ship this week, and they claim a seven-year battery life. PanGo doesn’t plan to make any tags for 802.15.4, UWB or infrared.

PanGo’s newest healthcare customer: West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, Louisiana, a 451-bed facility using the PanGo system running on a Cisco-based infrastructure. Perhaps the most interesting customer, however, is Wayport. The company, famed as a hotspot provider, is making headway into vertical markets and plans to offer the PanGo system as part of its product suite.

PanGo’s partner in 802.15.4 support is InnerWireless, a company known for the Horizon in-building distributed antennas supporting all kinds of radios. Last year at HIMSS06, it made its first mention of Spot, the 15.4 technology PanGo will support. It’s now commercially available after several tests, including at the Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, New York, which used it to accurately track IV pumps and reduce the time spent looking (to the tune, InnerWireless claims, of $6.5 million in savings over the next five years.)

While all of the above are established players in RTLS, the new guy to the table is familiar to those in Wi-Fi. Trapeze Networks‘ new LA-200 Location Appliance will work with a Trapeze-based WLAN infrastructure to provide what it says is reliability far higher than that of Cisco’s similar location appliance.

“We are the first company in our class of companies to ship a location appliance,” says director of product marketing David Cohen, who stresses that Trapeze doesn’t consider Cisco in its class. Companies that are — Meru and Aruba — don’t offer a location appliance as yet.

The LA-200 will work with any and all Wi-Fi tags from the vendors mentioned above, but the company plans to go one better in tracking any Wi-Fi device, no matter what, without requiring special software. “If it has the Wi-Fi standard on it, we can track it — it doesn’t have to have a special client agent,” says Cohen.

Of the various methods of pinpointing a location using a WLAN, Trapeze claims its use of RSSI server-side pattern matching is the most accurate. “It’s an RF fingerprint with a server-side approach that looks for the unique signal,” says Cohen. Cisco’s unit uses trilateration, a method of triangulating a device by using three known locations for that device. At 10 meters, Trapeze claims a 99% success rate compared to 95% for Cisco, plus a faster seek time.

The LA-200 will work out of the box, but has an open API for developers and is made to work with the software engines of companies like Ekahau, PanGo and AeroScout. The appliance has a starting price of $14,995 and is shipping now.

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