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Real-time location services crosses the chasm: 3 predictions for 2019

By all accounts, 2018 was a breakthrough year for real-time location services (RTLS), as organizations around the world derived real business benefit from being able to precisely locate people and objects in real time. Rapid growth occurred across a wide variety of applications, but none more so than logistics, industry automation, security and safety-related applications — and even arts and infotainment, where location-based data is powering sports applications, museums and experiential projects.

According to Research and Markets, industry adoption of RTLS is going nowhere but up. The analyst firm valued the RTLS market at more than $1.7 billion in 2017, rising to $13 billion by 2026 with a compound annual growth rate of 25% between 2018 and 2026.

The coming year will require a leap forward in technology, partnerships and project size to deliver on this level of growth. Here are three predictions for the market in 2019:

1. Location precision will drive new applications

Precision can be seen as a combination of accuracy and delay. How precise the location of a person or object must be depends on the application itself and where it is being deployed. Some applications may require accuracy within 3 to 5 meters, for example, when tracking a container in a shipyard. Others, such as the tracking of movements of athletes over the course of a game, may require centimeter-level accuracy.

Delay is another factor in RTLS precision. For example, when moving a 10-ton steel coil, real-time tracking may mean having delay smaller than 3 minutes. In sports, when there is a need for tracking real-time augmented reality of fast-moving objects, perhaps a ball or puck, 300 milliseconds is too much delay.

In 2019, new applications will emerge that take advantage of technological advances in location precision, and breakthroughs in middleware and applications, across industries, to drive measurable business value for organizations.

2. Technologies will cross-pollinate to deliver potent RTLS

Four primary technologies are driving the RTLS market today:

  1. Ultra wideband (UWB);
  2. High-accuracy Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) (i.e., BLE plus angle of arrival);
  3. BLE proximity, using received signal strength (RSSI); and
  4. Wi-Fi with RSSI.

Established RTLS companies are moving from a closed total offering to instead concentrate on the application layer, which requires the action of opening up their systems to incorporate best-in-breed components. The market is already seeing this cross-pollination between UWB and BLE players, as one example. In 2019, these partnerships will continue to flourish and further spur growth in the RTLS ecosystem.

Another area where cross-pollination is picking up speed into the new year is with applications that require seamless RTLS both indoors and outdoors. For example, tracking vehicle production from assembly line to destination, or in large complexes, like airports, where people and objects need to be tracked indoors (terminal) and outdoors (tarmac). In these scenarios, BLE plus angle of arrival plus GPS is a common request.

3. Individual RTLS deployments will scale

Organizations have been dipping their toes in the RTLS waters, deploying systems on a smaller scale — in a single branch office, for example — as they consider how to make a business case for a larger-scale deployment. As we move forward into 2019, companies will have proven the business case for RTLS and have dedicated budget to scale these smaller rollouts across the business and across locations.

In order for projects to scale, three industry developments are critical:

  1. A wide variety of low-cost sensors and tags will have come to market from a growing group of vendors;
  2. Devices will become “smarter,” with growing functionality, without putting a strain on battery life; and
  3. The concept of open ecosystems will enable organizations to build more flexible business models without the pain of worrying about hardware or software lock-ins.

Applications in industrial IoT, manufacturing, transportation, security, smart buildings and other industries will be the first to move toward scale. Large-scale deployments will utilize multiple tag devices with different physical and sensing characteristics for different tracking and monitoring purposes. Over time, we’ll see multiple use cases utilizing the same infrastructure deployment.

The RTLS market requires openness and interoperability to ensure a wide adoption by both consumers and enterprises. It also requires the buy-in from decision-makers, who must dedicate time and budget to make way for growth. The market has gained steam in 2018, and that momentum will open the floodgates in 2019 for significant growth. Next year, the market will have the right mix of technology breakthroughs, partnership momentum and scale to deliver on the predicted level of growth.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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