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Bringing GPS Indoors: Access Points as the North Star to Your Buildings
November 3, 2022 Blog

Authored By: Julian Chow, Country Manager, Malaysia Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company


In an increasingly digitalised world filled with mobile and smart devices, indoor location services go beyond helping users navigate large venues—they take the guesswork out of managing wireless infrastructure and form the foundation for all types of services as well, including making applications location-aware.

A report by Grand View Research values the global location intelligence market size at USD $14 billion in 2021 and is projected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.6% from 2022 to 2030, largely driven by increased investment in the Internet of Things (IoT) and a growing focus on location services across industries. This trend can also be seen in Malaysia’s Budget 2023, in which the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation has a 17% increase in budget allocation compared to the previous year. It is a clear indication of the country’s intent to become a high-technology nation by 2030. Furthermore, the indoor location-based services market is expected to grow by 36.7% year-on-year regionally, owing to the rising demand for digital platforms amid the pandemic.

The State of Indoor Location Services Today

The problem with indoor wayfinding is the fact that global positioning systems (GPS) simply does not work well indoors. In order for GPS receivers to work, they need to be able to receive signals from the constellation of satellites orbiting Earth from more than 20,000 km away. That is why GPS systems in cars take seemingly forever to initialise, and it is why receiving these signals through concrete walls indoors is seemingly impossible.

So, current indoor access points (APs) on their own do not provide accurate location information. Indoor location-based applications have, therefore, used alternative technologies such as Bluetooth or other wireless systems to improve the accuracy of indoor positioning and this is typically a completely separate network to Wi-Fi. As a result, we have not seen the widespread adoption of indoor locations nor a set of standard applications like we have in the outdoor space.

Users usually end up having to manually map out the location points of their APs. This results in inaccuracies due to human error, to speak nothing of the labour-intensive nature of this process. Each time the location of this AP is changed, time and resources have to be devoted towards recalibration. Imagine the cumbersome process of manually mapping each device or machine within a multi-storey hospital that operates over thousands of devices daily, each taking about 10–15 minutes to manually perform.

However, with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission setting a target to achieve 80% of 5G network coverage nationwide by 2024, improving current indoor location services will be significantly easier when combined with new-gen technology.

How GPS Is Making Self-Locating Indoor Access Points

GPS-enabled APs can automate this process and drastically lower the cost of operations. Years in the making, Aruba developed self-locating APs by using high-sensitivity GPS receivers that are embedded in and optimised for APs. Our approach to this innovation started from the basis that APs are generally static—they do not move around a lot—and they communicate with other APs around them that allows them to “get a location for themselves.”

By combining GPS with fine time measurements (FTM), which can orchestrate and coordinate the measurements between APs across the network, we are able to achieve exceptional accuracy to determine AP locations represented in both latitude and longitude—meaning the true height of the access point is also calculated in the process. Furthermore, these GPS-enabled indoor APs can be located on ceilings, with their antennas facing the floor, and even in basements—traditionally the worst kind of environments for GPS solutions. But we made it work.

“The problem with indoor wayfinding is the fact that global positioning systems (GPS) simply do not work well indoors. In order for GPS receivers to work, they need to be able to receive signals from the constellation of satellites orbiting Earth from more than 20,000 km away.”

The integration of APs with GPS capabilities puts an end to any abstraction in location services. Instead, these APs communicate automatically with each other and algorithmically determine an optimal anchor point for all APs within the network. This enables a self-correction of sorts over time after the initial set up—performed through repeated measurements and correction of anchor APs to provide businesses with the most accurate location possible.

To realise maximal interoperability and integration with applications, we introduced the Open Locate initiative, designed to standardise how APs share their reference locations with the ecosystem—over-the-air and via cloud-based APIs. With this, existing GPS navigation applications can leverage location coordinates supplied by the APs to extend their coverage indoors.

This is highly beneficial for businesses that operate in large premises. In hospitality, for instance, precise indoor location can vastly improve the customer experience by providing guests better navigation to event halls and food and beverage outlets, as well as easy and secure access to hotel facilities and services. Beyond navigation, GPS-enabled indoor access points introduce many potential possibilities, including asset tracking of expensive medical equipment in hospitals and geofencing in daycare centres to ensure child safety.

These self-locating indoor access points engender greater efficiencies across all layers of operations and simultaneously improve the accuracy of today’s networks to bring greater value to customers. By working out how to successfully integrate GPS receivers into indoor access points, we are not only making it easier for network administrators to manage these APs in the long term, we are enabling the delivery of improved indoor location services that make things like object and people tracking more accurate than ever. The potential use cases across industries are staggering, and that is game-changing.