Hybrid RTLS Solutions to be Found in Over a Quarter of all RTLS Deployments by 2025

07 Mar 2019

Hybrid RTLS implementations that incorporate distinct location technologies will be present in a million establishments by 2025, according to ABI Research, a market-foresight advisory firm providing strategic guidance on the most compelling transformative technologies. Businesses across many markets employ Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) when they wish to track their assets or people within their premises or offer indoor navigation. In those situations, an RTLS implementation for fixed devices, called gateways, are distributed throughout an establishment, and these are used to locate smartphones or tags. The latter are small devices which can be attached to goods or carried by people and communicate with the gateways via a short-range location technology.

Hybrid implementations are those which integrate more than one location technology for communication in a single infrastructure. A few of the most common RTLS (i.e., indoor and short-range) location technologies are Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Wi-Fi, Ultra-Wideband (UWB), and Active RFID. The need to relay large amounts of data over a network, the prospect of seamless transition between indoor and outdoor tracking and having versatility over location accuracy levels for different assets will propel hybrid implementations to jump from 9% of all RTLS implementations in 2016 to 29% by 2025.

At the gateway level, a hybrid implementation is one employing special gateways which can read tags of more than one type. While this mixing can happen between any two or more location technologies, one of the most notable pairings is UWB with BLE. “Put simply, the dilemma some companies face when they wish to track their assets is that UWB tags can be too expensive and BLE accuracy might not be enough for the use case at hand,” said Henrique Rocha, Research Analyst for Location Technologies at ABI Research. One of the solutions that Integrated Circuit (IC) vendors like Decawave have found is to produce modules that include both UWB and BLE functionalities, which are then made into gateways that can track tags communicating via either. “This way, assets requiring better visibility and location accuracy can be tracked with a UWB tag, while goods for which a few meters are enough location accuracy may be fitted with a BLE tag, all of that within a single infrastructure,” Rocha explained.

With the recent release of the Bluetooth 5.1 Core Specification, it is expected that BLE tracking accuracy will improve, but in many applications in metal-rich, dynamic environments, UWB is still expected to fare consistently better, thus justifying hybrid RTLS. ABI Research’s report finds that there will be over 400 million shipments of BLE asset tracking by 2025, while UWB tags for asset tracking will reach 22 million units. Another common RTLS technology pairing is BLE and Wi-Fi, and companies such as Mist Systems and Aruba are implementing BLE tracking within their Wi-Fi access points to provide their clients with simultaneous internet access and location in one infrastructure.

There are also instances where the combination of location technologies happens on the tag instead of the gateway, for example when businesses wish to track assets as they move between warehouses, requiring both indoor and outdoor tracking. Recent developments in Low-Power Global Navigation Satellite Systems (LP-GNSS) have made it possible to fit short-range RTLS tags with GNSS circuits that consume much less battery than traditional ones and relay location data over a Low-Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) or cellular network. A company favoring this approach is Estimote, which sells a BLE/GNSS/LTE-M tag for indoor and outdoor tracking.

While most verticals might be potentially affected by hybrid RTLS, certain manufacturing environments such as the aerospace industry can specifically benefit from it as these verticals deal with both critical parts and tools that require cm-level accuracy and other goods or people which need to be tracked and geofenced only at the zone level. Furthermore, in large closed spaces like hospitals and airports, having a single infrastructure for Wi-Fi and wayfinding makes for a much more affordable option for the contractor. Finally, any application in the industry which requires goods to move between warehouses and be tracked in the process, for instance in cold chains or container tracking, will derive great value from the possibility of integrating LP-GNSS with RTLS technologies for seamless indoors/outdoors tracking.

With RTLS implementations growing fast to reach 3.5 million in 2025, players in the RTLS space must be ready to provide customers with versatility. “Hybrid implementations play an important role as part of a larger trend of shifting the burden of tailoring RTLS to each use case from the provider to the client, which is more scalable,” added Rocha. “For that, RTLS providers will need to be flexible in their offerings to remain competitive in a rapidly consolidating ecosystem.” 

These findings are from ABI Research’s Indoor Location & RTLS market data report. This report is part of the company’s Location Technologies research service, which includes research, data, and Executive Foresights. Market Data spreadsheets are composed of deep data, market share analysis, and highly segmented, service-specific forecasts to provide detailed insight where opportunities lie.


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