Let’s talk about Tags: How to choose the right hardware for your RTLS deployment

BLE Beacons | Favendo GmbH

When choosing an RTLS system, in addition to the technology (e.g., Bluetooth, GPS or LoRaWAN) and the positioning algorithms behind it, you also have to deal with the topic of hardware. Broadly speaking, a distinction is made between gateways, locators or beacon trackers on the one hand and tags on the other. While the first group consists of devices that are stationary and receive radio signals, tags are mobile or attached to moving objects. And it is these movable tags that this article will focus on.  

It is worth taking a closer look at tags simply because there are so many of them. However, they differ in parameters such as price, shape, size and much more. With so many different tags to choose from, it’s not so easy to find the best possible tag for your use case. In fact, in our experience, choosing the right hardware is one of the biggest challenges customers face when implementing an RTLS system. 

What is a tag? 

A tag is a small transmitter that can be attached to an object or person and generates a signal. If we consider a beacon as an example tag, the signal is its ID. Besides the ID, however, the signal can also contain other data such as battery level or firmware. But no location data. Because the position calculation takes place server-based in the location engine in the cloud or on-prem.

Mostly tags are used for 2 different purposes: For asset tracking, such as inventory control, or for people tracking, such as tracking employees at solo workstations. For the latter application, there are also special tags that are equipped with additional functions, such as alarm or panic buttons, to quickly call for help in an emergency. Special tags can also be used to measure environmental conditions such as temperature or humidity.  

What impact does technology have on tag selection? 

Every project is different, and every tracking environment places different demands on the hardware and thus also on the tags. To make an RTLS future-proof and flexible, it is advisable to choose a technology such as Bluetooth, which is now an industry standard. Falling back on an established system offers maximum flexibility in the choice of tags and can also be easily expanded in the future. 

As a solution provider for various tracking technologies based on or compatible with Bluetooth, Favendo is able to offer highly customized solutions for diverse use cases in different industries. To this end, Favendo is closely networked with leading WiFi access point providers such as Aruba, technology providers such as Quuppa or hardware providers such as Actility/Abeeway and has developed a front-end solution with the Favendo Viewer that can integrate and display all systems. This means the greatest possible flexibility as well as the efficient combination of technologies and associated hardware. 

The different tag types 

As mentioned at the beginning, asset tags come in all shapes, colors, and sizes – virtually for every conceivable use case. For example, if you think about the use in logistics, where pallets are to be tracked, the size of the tags will be a relatively unproblematic factor. Even tags the size of a fist can be attached to a Euro pallet quite easily. Here, it is more a matter of the robustness of the transmitters. In a warehouse, bumps, falls or scratches can occur. 

In the health sector, on the other hand, tags need to be as small and inconspicuous as possible. Especially since it is not so easy to attach the tag to certain objects. Depending on how it is used, it may even have to withstand temperatures of up to 100 degrees Celsius in order to remain attached to the asset during the sterilization process. For these cases, there are specially designed tags. Such special requirements should be considered when implementing an RTLS, as this limits the choice of manufacturers and can ultimately impact the cost of the overall installation. After all, the more specialized a tag, the more costly it usually is. 

For people tracking, business card-sized tags that can be attached to a lanyard or wristbands with integrated tags are best, depending on the application. 

No matter what the use case, you should always consider what requirements the environment, the assets to be tagged, and also the future will place on the tags. For example, do the tags need to be shatterproof, waterproof, dustproof, antistatic or antiseptic? Are they exposed to wind, cold or UV radiation, or perhaps should certain sensors be integrated for temperature or acceleration measurement for a future expansion of RTLS use cases? 

The more accurately you consider these factors when implementing an RTLS solution, the more scalable your solution will be for the future, and the lower your hardware costs will be in the long run. Of course, not all potential use cases for the future can be explored. But even a close look at the current environmental conditions allows important conclusions to be drawn about the choice of tags, and in most cases this will also reveal conceivable functions that could become relevant in the future. 

In addition to the use cases and environmental conditions, accuracy is also a relevant factor in the selection of tags. For most use cases, zone-accurate tracking is sufficient. In the end, this also always reduces the hardware costs of an installation. Think in advance about which accuracy scenario applies in your case, because the selection of the tags is also based on this. 

Finding the right tag 

It’s easy to see that choosing the right tags depends on many different factors. Especially when you are at the beginning of planning for an RTLS solution, the choice and options can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s best to take a step-by-step approach. Look at the criteria mentioned, such as environmental conditions, accuracy, type of assets and future planning, and work out the most important requirements. Once these frameworks are set, Favendo will help you find the right tags based on your input.