Magazine Article | February 1, 2006

The RTLS Market Matures

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

RTLSs (real-time location systems), not
to be confused with RFID (radio frequency identification),
enable asset tracking over existing Wi-Fi networks.

Integrated Solutions, February 2006

To increase bottom-line profits today, enterprises are looking more and more into tools and systems to increase their asset utilization and employee productivity. Enterprises want to know where important equipment and staff are located at a given moment, what their historical patterns of usage and availability are, and how they can be more efficiently located and deployed. A key factor in analyzing business process improvement is to first gain visibility into the real-time location of these assets. But how can enterprises accurately capture location information, for example, in a busy hospital environment or in a large manufacturing facility?

The answer today is: with a real-time location system (RTLS). With RTLS solutions, enterprise assets and personnel can be tagged with RF (radio frequency) location tags and the assets' real-time movements and location history can be tracked and analyzed. While RTLSs have been available for more than five years, only during the past 12 months has the market shown real signs of maturing. The advancements and increasing use of 802.11 WLAN technology (wireless LAN, aka Wi-Fi) are now enabling these solutions to be deployed over existing Wi-Fi networks and eliminating the need for any secondary or proprietary infrastructures.


RTLS should not be confused with RFID, which is also touted as a solution for enterprise-related process improvements projects. However, one misconception about RFID is that it can be leveraged for location tracking. The fact is that the low-cost passive RFID tag does not know its location; it just holds ID and information – similar to a bar code – and can report its location only when it is manually read or when it passes through an RFID reader gate. To use passive RFID for real-time location tracking requires every doorway to be equipped with an RFID reader. This requirement creates enormous infrastructure costs.

Likewise, proprietary RF and infrared systems also require high-cost proprietary RF location antennas and readers. Lastly, GPS (global positioning system) technology has been used for years as a location tracking system, but it is not suitable for indoor applications because the technology requires external satellite contact.


What makes the RTLS market particularly interesting today is its convergence with 802.11 Wi-Fi. Some of the new RTLS solutions can be deployed over standard Wi-Fi, which eliminates the need for a secondary or proprietary wireless infrastructure and thus significantly improves a payback. According to a recent Yankee Group analysis, 80% of enterprises will have deployed Wi-Fi by 2008. This development creates a natural enabling technology for RTLS solutions. By using Wi-Fi location tags and RTLS software, standard Wi-Fi access points can be used as a location infrastructure that delivers up to 3.5-foot accuracy, which is indeed adequate for most asset utilization or workflow pattern analysis needs.

In recent months, with the help of rapidly growing adoption of building-wide and campus-wide Wi-Fi networks, the RTLS market has clearly come out of its infancy. The market dynamics for RTLS are healthy, with several competitors in the market and tangible return on investment. RTLS solutions are finally delivering the value that has been anticipated during the past five years: providing enterprises with cost savings and process improvement through real-time visibility of critical enterprise assets and resources.