RTLS-Glossary for Beginners

Here you find a compilation of the most important terms used when talking about Real Time Location Services.  

API:  “application programming interface”, usually short “programming interface” is a program part, which is made available by a software system to other programs for connection to the system. An API is needed, for example, for connecting and integrating data collected by a beacon infrastructure into an existing enterprise resource planning system or similar.

Asset Tracking: means the tracking of goods in mostly industrial use. This tracking also uses radio technology and the transmitter / receiver principle. For asset tracking with beacon technology, the items to be tracked – such as moving factory inventory – are equipped with beacons or other tags Modern tracking systems are increasingly relying on combinations of different technologies, such as RFID and beacon technology.

Beacons: A Beacon  is a small transmitter that sends signals on the Bluetooth low-energy standard with a range of up to 40 meters. Beacons send a signal at a specific time interval that can be assigned by the correct receiving device. In most cases, the device is a smartphone or tablet with the corresponding app. In the signal, an ID is transmitted with which each beacon can be identified. Meanwhile, a distinction must be made between iBeacons (Apple) and Eddystone beacons (Google). Eddystone beacons are in use in the context of the so-called Physical Web and, in contrast to iBeacons, can send a URL. In so-called audio beacons, no physical device is meant, but an audio signal inaudible to the human ear. Information similar to a watermark is modulated into the signal, for example about the location. The technology is therefore also called audio watermarking.

Blackwell: Under this brand Favendo sells its own high-quality iBeacons. The name for the beacons refers to the Blackwell Lighthouse on Roosevelt Island in front of New York. Blackwell beacons are developed and produced according to the highest European standards in Germany. Blackwell beacons are able to send their signals encrypted and are mesh-capable.

Bluetooth: Bluetooth is an industry standard for data transmission over short distances between devices via radio technology. Using this standard, devices can be networked at a distance of about ten meters. Maximum ranges of 75 meters can be achieved. Bluetooth currently means Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) in the context of location-based services. BLE distinguishes itself in comparison to the classical Bluetooth by a clearly reduced energy consumption. The Android operating system supports BLE since version 4.3 (mid-2013). Apple’s iOS operating system supports BLE since iOS 5. BLE is the wireless standard with which beacons communicate.

Commander: Under this name, Favendo distributes the software part of its overall solution. Favendo’s Commander consists of backend, dashboard, Commander SDK and the optional MapView SDK. Commander is multi-client capable and can address different apps at the same time. The solution package also includes an optional white label app with pre-installed Map SDK.

Deployment:  Planning and installation of a beacon infrastructure.

Eddystone: The Bluetooth Low Energy Beacon Profile Eddystone was introduced in 2015 by Google as an alternative to Apple’s iBeacon. It should be noted that this is not a hardware, but a software protocol that is flashed on beacons. The system, which was released as an open-source program and can be used on various platforms, named after a famous lighthouse in front of the coast of Cornwall, because the signal of the beacon is as simple as that of a lighthouse and works also only in one direction. It can be received by all Bluetooth enabled devices. The Google solution makes it possible to send not just an ID via Beacon but also entire web addresses.

Fingerprinting: A way of determining the position by means of WLAN infrastructure. Instead of determining the distance between objects and reference points, the fingerprint technique searches for characteristic matches of signals such as RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indication) and MAC address (Media Access Control). For this purpose, first a database acting as a “map” is created with the characteristics of the existing WLAN signals at a specific location and at a specific time. Normally “broadcasts” sent out by WLAN routers are recorded. In later operation, the smartphone sends the signals received within the WLAN infrastructure to a server. There, the signal strength is compared with the signal strengths stored in the “map” and then the position is estimated. This is in turn continuously sent back to the smartphone.

Firmware: Firmware is software that is embedded in electronic devices. In this case, it is the “operating system” of the beacon.

Gateway: generally refers to a transfer point and means above all a switching device in computer networks or a component (hardware and / or software), which establishes a connection between two systems. The term gateway implies that the forwarded data will be processed. In beacon technology, for example, the so-called “controllers” used by Favendo, which receive the beacon signals and forward them to a server, act as gateways.

iBeacon: A beacon is a small transmitter that transmits signals with a range of up to 40 meters on the Bluetooth low-energy standard. Beacons send a signal at a specific time interval that can be assigned by the correct receiving device. In most cases, the device is a smartphone or tablet with the corresponding app. In the signal, an ID is transmitted with which each beacon can be identified. There is a distinction between the standards iBeacon (Apple) and Eddystone beacon (Google). Eddystone beacons are in use in the context of the so-called Physical Web and can, unlike iBeacons, send an URL.

Industrial IoT: In 1999, British technology researcher and co-inventor of the RFID chip at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Kevin Ashton, used the term “IoT” to refer to the connection of physical things with a structure of virtual representations. Sebastian Berg, a scientist at RWTH Aachen University, prefers the German synonym “Industry 4.0”. While the American “Internet of Things” is more concerned with products, the focus of Industry 4.0 is on production. In the meantime, the term IIoT – Industrial Internet of Things is also being established in parallel for Industry 4.0.

Indoor Navigation: means the flexible guiding and navigation of people within an infrastructure using an electronic output device. Similar to systems for outdoor use, the user is shown his route to a certain point on a screen or announced by the output device.

Infrastructure: The beacon installation in a building or defined area is commonly referred to as a beacon infrastructure. The term covers all software, hardware and firmware used.

IoT: (Short for Internet of Things) 1999, the British technology researcher and co-inventor of the RFID chip at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Kevin Ashton, with the term “IoT” referred to the connection of physical things with a structure of virtual representations. Sebastian Berg, a scientist at RWTH Aachen University, prefers the German synonym “Industry 4.0”. While the American “Internet of Things” is more concerned with products, the focus of Industry 4.0 is on production.

Location-based Services: are mobile services that, with the help of location-dependent data, provide the end user with relevant content on the smartphone for him / her at this moment and at that location, or provide services of a different kind. Location-based services are used in many industries, such as in retail / stationary trade, in transport, in tourism and as a component of successful digitization in Industry 4.0.

Mesh: short for mesh beacons. These differ from “conventional” Bluetooth devices in that they no longer only know point-to-point connections, such as between smartphones and soundboxes, but can use the mesh network protocol to build many-to-many connections , Not only can the data packets be routed through one or two devices, but the SIG specification for Bluetooth LE Mesh envisages 32,000 networked devices. Beacons take another step away from retail-only solutions to a true IoT key technology. This ability, which results in a wider range, makes Mesh Beacons extremely interesting in the areas of Smart Buildings and Asset Tracking.

Packet: a data packet or simply “packet” is generally a term for self-contained data units that a sender sends to a receiver (a beacon controller).

Push/Pull-Principle: Push refers to the principle of iBeacons. Pull refers to the principle of Eddystone beacons. For example, in an iBeacon installation, such as an iBeacons-equipped mall, certain actions are triggered on its smartphone based on the recipient’s location. A customer in front of a shoe store, for example, automatically receives a push message with a special offer tailored to him. Prerequisite: The customer has installed the app of the store on his device.

In contrast to this, in the pull principle the customer finds an indication of further content in the physical web in the form of a URL in the message center of his smart device while in front of the store. This could, for example, be a special landing page with further offers from the shoe store The user has to become active himself and open the link to the landing page, he has to “pull” the contents. A big advantage is that the necessary app, for iPhones the apps Physical Web or Browse, is in most cases already loaded on the device of the user. A separate app of the advertising business is not necessary.

Physical Web: The Physical Web developed towards the end of 2014 by Google is an open source technology approach designed to better connect the physical and web worlds . This should allow smartphone users to interact with items or places in their environment without the need for an app. One of the building blocks of the Physical Web is the Eddystone URL.

Positioning: Refers to the ability to determine the location or position of a person or an object (assets). An overview of various technologies that enable positioning, especially indoors, can be found here.

Positioning accuracy: With BLE beacons, an accuracy of three to five meters is guaranteed. VLC achieves a positioning accuracy up to 30 centimeters. Which technology is used depends therefore crucially on what you want to achieve with the positioning.

Push message (also push notification): Push notifications are messages that appear on the smartphone without opening the app. Push messages can also be received in the open app. Consumers show greater acceptance of marketing measures via so-called InApp pushes.

PropTech (also Property Tech): is by definition part of modern technological developments and disruption in commercial building management. PropTech includes both the digitization of management and the use of location-based services and sensor technology in building control.

RFID:  RFID means radio-frequency identification. This technology especially strong in logistic applications enables automatic and non-contact identification and static localization. An RFID system consists of a transponder and a reader. Data can be stored on the transponder – also called radio tag or RFID tag. In typical RFID applications such as access control or in warehousing and logistics, the range is typically 0.5 to 3 meters.

SDK: A software development kit (SDK) is a collection of program code (parts). These program code components can be integrated into already existing programs. Favendo’s services (Asset Tracking, Proximity Marketing, Positioning / Navigation, Analytics) can be quickly and easily integrated into third-party systems as SDKs.

Solution Provider: Companies like Favendo not only provide hardware, but also work with the customer to develop tailor-made solutions to a specific problem. And this on the basis of the most appropriate technology. When choosing the provider should therefore be paid to sensor-agnostic solutions. This means that more than one standard technology is available to the provider and that he can possibly combine different sensors in his solution.

Tag: In this context, a beacon attached to an object or another (radio) transmitter.

UUID: The UUID (Universally Unique Identifier) is a common standard identifier in software development. With the aid of the UUID all beacons of a network can be identified. For example, under the UUID, all beacons are grouped together under the control of a specific operator of shopping centers. The Major ID then designates all beacons within a certain shopping center, the Minor ID a specific beacon within the shopping center.

VISIBLE LIGHT COMMUNICATION (VLC): VLC was market-ready developed by Philips Lighting. The system is used in various supermarkets in France and Germany. Philips calls the positioning via light signals Indoor Positioning System (IPS). The IPS uses LED lights for local navigation and information transmission. Their light signals transmit an individual coding for each luminaire, which is perceptible to the smartphone camera but not to the human eye. Similar to navigation using GPS, the app can use the received signals from the lights to determine the current position of the smartphone to an accuracy of 30 centimeters and match it with the target coordinates. No Wi-Fi or mobile connection is required. For the technology to be used for navigation, however, there must be a constant “line of sight” between the mobile phone camera and the light source. The data stream is also a one-way street with pure VLC. This means that no data about customer movements can be obtained. Philips has therefore begun to combine VLC with Bluetooth technology.

In addition to other location-based services,  in this combination it is possibleto position and navigate despite the fact that the line of sight is interrupted, for example when the mobile phone is in the user’s pocket. Thanks to its high positioning accuracy, VLC / IPS makes it possible for the first time to achieve shelf and product-specific navigation, which is particularly needed in the food retail sector.

WLAN: The abbreviation for Wireless Local Area Network refers to a local radio network for data transmission. WLAN can also be used for positioning. The accuracy of the positioning is between five and 15 meters. Under ideal conditions, a location of 0.5 m would be possible. However, these are never achieved in practice.

When positioning via WLAN, the receiver (smartphone, tablet) measures the signal strength of a large number of hotspots positioned in the building. By trilateration and / or fingerprinting the position is determined. The biggest advantage of this technology is that a WLAN infrastructure – consisting of access points and, for example, network-capable devices such as WLAN-capable POS systems – already exists in many cases and no new infrastructure needs to be set up. In addition, a log-in is not necessary, since only the signal strength is measured.

This indisputable advantage, however, is outweighed by numerous disadvantages. Thus, the location via WLAN is not supported by devices from iOS version 4.3. By now the operating system version 11 is in use. A high number of users is thus already excluded by the technical requirements. In addition, the calibration of the position determination must take place beforehand via reference measurements, which makes an installation extremely complicated. Amongst other things, the smart device orientates itself on the strength of the WiFi signals (Received Signal Strength Indication, RSSI for short) during an indoor navigation. Even human bodies prove to be significant confounders in this methodology. This is due to the high water content of a body (over 70%) and the resonant frequency of the water, which is around 2.4GHz, the frequency with which many wireless local area networks operate.


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