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Tracking indoor location with Wi-Fi chip

02 Apr 2014  | Jessica Lipsky

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 Indoor location technology

Indoor location technology is a burgeoning market, analysts say.

Broadcom introduced an 802.11ac SoC, the BCM43462, designed for indoor positioning applications, which will be demonstrated at Interop, April 1 through April 3 in Las Vegas.

"Venue operators, from stadiums and malls to campuses and dense urban areas, are all looking for ways to provide indoor location tracking capability and monetise their Wi-Fi infrastructure," Mike Powell, director of product marketing for Broadcom's Infrastructure and Networking Group, told EE Times.

Analysts at ABI Research expect location-based technology installations to reach 25,000 this year, with over 100 million mobile devices supporting indoor location within two years. Indoor location technology could be used to provide better mapping applications and targeted advertising.

"A lot of this new location technology is coming along at the same time as 11ac, and... having indoor location technology that's good or better than outdoor location technology is going to be very important for end users," Powell said.

The access point SoC is dual band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) with three-stream spatial multiplexing up to 1.3Gbit/s. The chip has a more powerful ARM processor than previous devices, is able to process location coordinates within several nanoseconds and uses fine timing measurement (FTM), also known as round trip time stamping.

"FTM allows us to timestamp exact times when a packet leaves the access point to a smartphone, and back again. The SoC is able to do processing and location roughly within one metre of the user. We're talking three to four feet for advertisements," Powell said.

Broadcom's FTM technology differs from other indoor location chips, which often rely on received signal strength indicator technology, where signal strength and performance can vary depending on environmental factors such as crowd density or temperature. As FTM becomes standard, Powell noted, quick time stamping between access points and handsets is necessary.

"A lot of this capability is dormant in handset devices starting to ship with 11ac, so it's not one of those things that will take a long, long time to light up. As people deploy more access points, the clients will be there to interact," Powell said.

The chip is already sampling and will go into mass production at the end of the second quarter of 2014.




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