To locate an IoT device, you need a wireless communications network. Most IoT tracking systems rely on GPS or cellular location services for this connectivity. Unfortunately, these technologies have a few drawbacks for enterprise asset tracking systems.
Cellular connectivity is expensive. GPS doesn’t work well inside buildings, or even in cloudy conditions. If your business depends on reliable data on asset location—and condition monitoring—GPS and cellular tracking might not be enough.
Luckily, there’s a third option that offers distinct advantages. It’s called Wi-Fi location services, and whether you’re aware of its existence or not, you probably use it frequently. It’s how Google Maps, Uber, and a million other everyday apps know exactly where your phone is—even if GPS is unavailable.
“Most IoT tracking systems rely on GPS or cellular location services. Unfortunately, these technologies have a few drawbacks for enterprise asset tracking systems.”
In this article, we’ll explain how traditional Wi-Fi location services work. But we won’t stop there.
Once you understand the basics, we’ll introduce an innovative new approach to asset tracking through Wi-Fi location services. At Troverlo, we patented a new way to provide dependable, affordable, and secure data about where your assets are, wherever they travel across the globe—all by turning the Wi-Fi positioning system on its head.
How Wi-Fi Location Services Work
Wi-Fi location services operate on the same general principle as GPS or cellular location tracking: triangulation. To locate a device using triangulation, you need at least three “nodes”—such as cell towers, satellites, or Wi-Fi access points—that your device can detect.
The signal strength between the device and the node tells a location system how far away the two objects are, but it can’t specify the direction. That creates a circle of possible locations, equidistant from the node at the center.
If you have at least three nodes, however, these circles will overlap in a single area. The device that’s detecting all three nodes is definitely located somewhere in the overlap.
In GPS, satellites are the nodes. In cellular triangulation, cell towers are the nodes. And in Wi-Fi location services, the nodes are the billions of Wi-Fi access points scattered across the globe.
As you might suspect, however, triangulation alone can’t always pinpoint the exact location of a radio. It identifies an area, not a point. To zero in on a device, Wi-Fi location services rely on another source of data.
How Wireless Network Databases Improve Accuracy
Companies that use Wi-Fi location services in their products (think Google, Facebook, and a host of lesser-known digital operators) maintain massive databases of Wi-Fi access points. They collect data about the strength and identity of each Wi-Fi signal, compiling a unique “Wi-Fi fingerprint” for each access point. These companies constantly update these databases to reflect the changing Wi-Fi landscape, too.
Triangulation identifies the general area of a Wi-Fi device. With additional signal data from Wi-Fi fingerprints, Wi-Fi location services pinpoint almost exactly where that device is at any given moment.
For enterprise asset tracking systems, this technology offers a few distinct advantages compared to GPS or cell-tower triangulation. Wi-Fi location services are:
- More accurate at spotting indoor devices. Walls, roofs, and even weather systems can block satellite signals. That makes GPS less effective when devices move indoors (or when the weather turns). Wi-Fi signals pass right through walls, and access points are usually located indoors—and Wi-Fi fingerprints offer more exact location data than cellular triangulation.
- Easier on device batteries. Wi-Fi location services use less power than GPS or cellular connections. They’re less of a drain on batteries, a crucial consideration in mobile asset tracking systems.
- More useful in urban areas. Satellite signals have an unfortunate tendency to bounce off of tall buildings. That can reduce GPS accuracy in heavily developed areas like cities. Wi-Fi signals don’t have this problem.
- Less expensive than cellular plans. Cellular towers cost a lot. Mobile network operators pass these expenses onto network users, which is why cellular connectivity can be cost-prohibitive for large asset fleets. The Wi-Fi positioning network arises collectively, with no single payer—so it costs a lot less to use.
One drawback to traditional Wi-Fi location services is that it needs connectivity to work—the data about nearby Wi-Fi networks needs to be sent to a Wi-Fi location service to determine its location. To avoid the need for connectivity, some IoT providers leverage traditional Wi-Fi location service infrastructure in reverse. By inverting the connectivity relationship and making the asset tracking device act like an access point, Wi-Fi location services can track the location of the device as it moves.
Using the Wi-Fi Positioning System for Location Tracking and Data Collection
How does Troverlo leverage the Wi-Fi ecosystem to deliver cost-effective, accurate, and secure services? Our patented technology starts by configuring assets to be tracked to behave like Wi-Fi access points.
In other words, an asset tracking tag—or any Wi-Fi-enabled device—emits a signal that mimics a hotspot. Countless nearby Wi-Fi devices collect location data on that signal source and send it to independently operated Wi-Fi fingerprint databases (remember those?)
Troverlo partners with many operators of these databases, breaking down data silos to create a centralized Global Observation Network. In other words, when a Wi-Fi database partner sees the asset tracking tag, that information flows immediately back to the Global Observation Network. It tells you where your assets are—without GPS, cellular plans, or even active Wi-Fi connections.
Such a system isn’t limited to location data, either. It can embed up to 32 characters of any data into the signal’s Service Set Identifier (SSID), which is plenty for most sensor readings. That’s how Wi-Fi location services can support both asset tracking and condition monitoring data at once.
|How Secure Are Wi-Fi Asset Tracking Systems?
This novel method of tracking assets never collects personally identifiable information (PII), so it’s remarkably secure. The database partners who contribute to a Global Observation Network anonymize all findings, so there’s no PII in the dataset at any point.
With the right asset-tracking partner, users can further protect sensitive data by categorizing assets into specific groups and adjusting platform settings to assign viewing permissions to authorized users alone.
In short, asset tracking using Wi-Fi location services in reverse offers reliable security and privacy for all users.
Use Cases for IoT Asset Tracking Through Wi-Fi Location Services
Who benefits from Wi-Fi asset tracking services? Here are a few sample use cases for the technology we just introduced:
- Consumer electronics companies use Wi-Fi asset tracking to collect anonymized data about how their products are used. This helps them develop more successful products in the future. It also lets customers register for product maintenance programs.
- Enterprise IT departments use Wi-Fi asset tracking for 100 percent visibility into corporate device inventory. They can spot company assets even when they’re not connected to the internet, which is a powerful solution for inventory management and loss prevention.
- Original equipment manufacturers use Wi-Fi asset tracking to build telematics and other IoT functionality into their products. The low cost of this technology makes it affordable to track virtually anything, from hand tools to industrial vehicles—which opens up IoT services for equipment that used to get priced out of the capability.
- Logistics providers use Wi-Fi asset tracking to track just about anything they handle. They can also provide customers with much more insight into their operations, all without expensive cellular connections or laborious barcode scanning.
By leveraging an existing, decentralized infrastructure, this innovative Wi-Fi tracking system cuts costs to the absolute minimum, while improving both accuracy and reliability. If you need to track assets—including inexpensive equipment that didn’t seem worth tracking before—Wi-Fi asset tracking could be the solution you’re looking for.