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GPS vs. WiFi Locating Technology | AG Weekly

Justin Bailey
Dec 7, 2018 8:56:12 AM


What Are Location Services For?

Location services really provide us a way to monitor things that move. Traditional security systems are based around home and businesses and even in the PERS world were based on the fact that people were in their home or in a care facility, helping emergency professionals find people easily.


Location services allow us to to know where things, people and other things that we want to keep safe are. So as alarms come in on something that moves not only do we know what sent the alarm but we can know approximately, depending on the technology where that thing is, and sometimes we can know very accurately where that is, which then allows us to make sure proper help is sent to the proper place.

How Does GPS Locating Work?

I'm no satellite expert, GPS, however provides a way to locate individuals anywhere in the world based on satellite positioning. There are satellites orbiting the earth, and GPS devices then communicate to multiple satellites and are able to triangulate their location. It's really one way the satellites communicate down to the device and then the device calculates its position based on a read from multiple satellites in orbit.

It works great when you have a good view to the sky, when you can have connections to multiple satellites. There's some limitations with GPS as well. Where there's often a delay if it's been a while the device has moved a significant distance from the last time it received that GPS location, it can take a couple of minutes, ultimately, to get a really good GPS location. And that utilization also takes a significant amount of battery life, particularly for a small device.

How Does Cellular (WiFi) Locating Work?

The ubiquitous nature of Wi-Fi networks has provided an interesting new path for locations and inhabited sections of the world. Companies have gone through and mapped the locations of Wi-Fi networks by just looking at the identity of the Wi-Fi network and then mapping its location.

These companies know where you are by examining the signal strength of different Wi-Fi networks that your device can see. It's interesting that your device doesn't have to be connected to these networks, it just has to be aware that there's a Wi-Fi network there and measure its signal strength. And with that information, different providers are able to then pinpoint your location based on the relative signal strength of those different available Wi-Fi networks; even allowing location information from floor to floor and large residential apartments or commercial buildings by knowing which Wi-Fi networks are available and the strength of that connection.

Which One Is Best?

So GPS location and Wi-Fi location, in many ways, are very complimentary technologies. The strengths of one often seems to augment the weaknesses of the other. With GPS, it's best outside. The satellite signal strength works very well when you're out in an open area. GPS is also very strong in very uninhabited areas where there aren't a variety of Wi-Fi networks out in the middle of nowhere. In these situations, GPS is by far the best solution and is very valuable and those some of the great uses for it. Even in cities, GPS struggles since its signals can bounce off other structures and buildings making it a little more difficult to get a location. Also, large cities prevent having a clear view to the sky with different high rises and other buildings that obscure that view in some way.

GPS also has its limitations. While it can measure altitude, knowing that altitude inside a building may not translate to a particular floor. SoWi-Fi really makes up for a lot of those shortcomings. While you need a variety of Wi-Fi networks available to get a great location, the Wi-Fi location fix is often much less expensive from a battery standpoint, its very fast and very accurate in areas that have been mapped. The limitation is if an area hasn't been mapped and the provider doesn't have location fixes for those wireless networks, you you run the risk of not being able to get a good location on that device.

Why Is Locating Technology Important?

We live in a mobile world and where people and things are moving more than they ever have before, and they expect that freedom and that flexibility. The ability to monitor things that move are critical, whether that is you know construction equipment or individuals who have a life safety risk because of their health or other conditions or maybe a lone worker that's out and expected to go into potentially dangerous situations throughout their day. Knowing where they are at all times and have that be seamless with their experience they don't need to check in or validate where they are but that the technology can know where they're located. So if and when help is needed that help can be sent quickly and accurately. This really critical in the monitoring world today because it because it allows the monitoring space to provide the services that people have come to expect in knowing where they are and providing them real time services based on their location.

When Has Locating Technology Helped Someone?

We do a lot of life safety monitoring and we had a recent event where an individual was not feeling well and determined that they were going to take themselves to the doctor. They made it as far as the parking lot next door to the parking lot at the dr. office. Ultimately they they push the SOS button on their device. A short while later, they lost consciousness and was unable to provide their own location to the monitoring operator. However, the operator, using information from the device, was able to determine that they were near the dr. office and sent emergency medical professionals to that location. They were able to locate the vehicle and the individual inside and saved a life that day. That's a great example of location services and how it really can augment and support people's lifestyle and their expectation to help themselves. In addition, it helps make sure that subscribers are provided a kind of a security blanket that can help them when when they reach beyond a point beyond where they can help themselves.

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