Did I Mention That Location Services Is the End-game?

Ten years has validated my assertions (in 2008 and in 2009) that location services is the end game. Whether it’s used for asset tracking, people tracking, wayfinding, or even location-based access control, location services is the killer app of all time. How do I know? I cheated and read a little ahead in the Book.

Revelation 13:16-17

Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.

I know what you’re thinking… and of course I am. Yet, I’m still right aren’t I? Think about it. 😉

Why Do I Think I’m Right?

Why do I think location services is such a big deal that I would stick my neck way out there and adamantly predict such things more than a decade ahead of time? Because with fully-baked location service implementations, organizations and governments have control. With control comes power…real power. Oh, that’s not how it will be marketed, but that’s the long-term intention just the same.

Location services will be marketed and sold under the banners of operational efficiency, lowering costs, saving money, employee accountability, proximity services, surveillance, service enablement (e.g. asset tracking, location-based access control, and wayfinding), and many others. Frankly, the benefits of this technology will be hard to resist…and in the end it will be plain for all to see that we did not resist. Organizations will take to this technology like a moth to a flame, and once we hit the hockey stick curve, it’s all over but the sobbing and regret.

Control has many faces, and location services is an important face. Surveillance is another face, that is obviously out of control, both corporately and governmentally. It’s all coming together nicely/horribly (depending on which side of this coin you’re on), it is only going to get better/worse. 🙂 Just keep your eye on the ball as we go along.

Why Am I Writing This Blog Now, After 10 Years?

First, there was RTLS over Wi-Fi, and that simply sucks. No seriously, it’s terrible. At its best, it’s an inaccurate check-box feature that screws your Wi-Fi design when it’s forced upon you by the customer’s “mandatory requirements”, as pitched by a vendor salesperson. How does it ruin your network, you ask? It forces APs to be moved to sub-optimal locations (e.g. Cisco’s “convex hull” approach), it forces you to add additional APs just for 2.4GHz services (which is the band where most asset tracking is done today), and for even reasonable accuracy, it may require additional bolt-on hardware. When you add together ridiculous (in the BAD sense of the word) customer design “requirements” of -65dBm primary, -65dBm secondary (at this point we’re already hosed), tertiary 2.4GHz coverage for RTLS (another ~10% of additional APs added into the mix just to get their 2.4GHz radios for location services!), convex hull deployment locations, and then custom modules and antennas that purport to get accuracy down to below 1 meter using both WiFi and BLE (which is utter nonsense), you might as well just direct deposit your company’s annual gross income directly into the WiFi vendor’s bank account…and for what? Poor accuracy and high configuration complexity. No thank you, says I. I’ve seen this approach ruin too many hospital networks, and I’m done with the over-hyped, under-delivered location services.

Enter Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology. This is some very interesting technology, I must say. Most enterprise Wi-Fi infrastructure vendors now support this technology in one form or another. Most vendors have just dipped a toe into the water of BLE, but two companies have seemingly made a serious investment: Mist Systems and HPE/Aruba. Their approaches are very different, and your guess is as good as mine as to where all of this BLE technology will wash out over the next 10 years. To that, I can only say that location services in general is very important technology as we’re ushered into an age of hyper restriction.

Let’s Talk About HPE/Aruba/Meridian

I recently attended HPE/Aruba’s Meridian fundamentals class at their Airheads event in Las Vegas. I can sum up the class in two words: Holy. Smokes. This technology is light years ahead of where we were 10 years ago. I can only imagine what another 10 years will give us. My friend @KimberlyAGraves and her co-teacher Venu Dhanraj did a stellar job at teaching this class and answering a plethora of technical questions from a large group of very nerdy Wi-Fi engineers. I’m very happy that I took this class, and I can readily recommend it to anyone interested in leading-edge location services that won’t screw up your Wi-Fi design.

For a programming novice like me, the Meridian App takes a little getting used to, but is far more user friendly than I had expected. I would expect after building one detailed app by myself, for a customer, I’d be an expert on using their cloud-based app builder platform. Their courseware was very well written, and the logical flow of building an app and deploying BLE tags made sense.

There are two distinctly different approaches to using the Meridian BLE-based platform: wayfinding and asset tracking. These services can be performed separately or simultaneously. The Meridian solution has a broad range of BLE tags (standalone and AP-integrated), with a BLE tag ecosystem initiative planned for the near future. This is exciting stuff, as long as you realize that the end-game of this technology as a whole is a little scary. The Meridian technology delivers what it markets, as I’ve seen first-hand.

Final Thoughts

If your organization is thinking about location services, PLEASE do yourself (and us Wi-Fi architects) a favor and do not try to do location services over the Wi-Fi. It sucks, it’s expensive, and it will very likely wreck your Wi-Fi design. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. BLE is a better solution.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.