More Accurate and Secure Asset Tracking: Trends in Cellular and Indoor Location Technology

July 12, 2018 by Mark Hughes

Here's a look at recent technologies released by PoLTE and decaWave, which provide indoor location services, and Telit, which provides cellular modules with a global reach.

Location data has a million and one uses in applications across hundreds of global industries. Gathering it accurately and securely, however, is a challenge. Here's a look at three companies that are working to make gathering and managing location data more accurate, accessible, and reliable.

There is an increasing number of industries incorporating—or even relying entirely—on location data. This roundup covers recent technologies released by PoLTE and decaWave, which provide indoor location services, and Telit, which provides cellular modules with a global reach. 

Telit and Machine-to-Machine Communication

Telit is a global manufacturer of families of carrier certified cellular and wireless modules designed for machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. All modules in a particular family have identical footprints, so a product designed for the LTE market in the United States can be easily upgraded a year from now by installing a 5G module during manufacture. Similarly, that product can be pushed out to less sophisticated cellular markets by installing a GSM module.

If cellular service is not available in a particular area, then Bluetooth low-energy (BLE), Wi-Fi, low-power wide-area, and Wirepas modules are available, as well.


Telit BlueMod+S50 module image from Telit.


This modular design could allow an engineer to, say, create a water quality analyzer that can be installed in Silicon Valley or an African village simply by changing one item on their bill-of-materials. This is essentially the groundwork to allow engineers to deploy IoT devices worldwide with a minimum amount of research, development, and effort.

TELIT also has a line of M2M IoT modules for timing and positioning, including positioning sensors, smart antennas, and dead-reckoning sensors. At Sensors Expo 2018, Telit announced the SE878Kx-A series of GPS and GNSS integrated antenna receiver modules. These modules are designed for location-based IoT applications, including fleet management and other forms of asset tracking.

Nanotron and decaWave Real-Time Location Services

With the exception of inertial measurement units, most real-time location technology uses the principles of time-of-flight and triangulation or multilateration to determine location with respect to known anchor positions.

Nanotron recently licensed its symmetrical double-sided two-way ranging (SDS-TWR) technology to decaWave. decaWave creates a line of chips that accurately range and locate objects indoors within 10cm accuracy. This technology allows accurate tracking, geo-fencing, and navigation in outdoor environments and indoor environments whether GPS is available or not.

Real-time location services and its accompanying hardware can be used in increasingly difficult applications, from tracking products indoors in a mall to cows in a distant field to workers in a mine.

See the video for decaWave's evaluation kit below.

PoLTE's Location Platform

If you are trying to track a shipment of expensive products, your electric scooter, or your drone, you’ve likely discovered that it is difficult to find a solution that works anywhere in North America, both outdoors and indoors. GPS cannot be used to determine location unless it has a clear view of the sky, and then requires a cellular signal to transmit the information. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth tracking technologies are relatively short range, and require infrastructure in the location of interest.

PoLTE eliminates the GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi radios and uses multipath signal processing techniques with cellular signals and cloud-computing to determine position. The technology works wherever a cellular signal can reach—inside convention centers, office buildings, and homes. A small bit of data is sent to the cloud computing servers, and the location is calculated by PoLTE’s algorithms. This means that, even if a malicious actor intercepted the cellular transmission, they wouldn’t be able to do anything with it unless they had access to PoLTE’s databases, computers, and algorithms.


Simplified overview of PoLTE's "mobile device ecosystem" from PoLTE


While most cellular phones connect to a single cell site at a time, the signal from multiple sites is available at any given location. The technology leverages the fact that cellular signals use OFDM and borrows techniques from the field of radar signal-analysis to determine position in relation to local cellular antennas.

Location accuracy is negatively affected by inaccuracies in the cellular tower location database, a shortcoming that PoLTE is overcoming with statistical analysis to refine position accuracy. As the location of cellular towers is refined, PoLTE will be able to increase the location accuracy of cellular modems and cellular phones indoors and outdoors without the need for a GPS receiver, which is an energy- and cost-saving feature.

What other cellular and location technologies are you keeping your eye on? Share what you know in the comments.


Featured image used courtesy of Nanotron.