Applying Location-Based Services over WLANs

By Jim Geier

September 29, 2003

Wireless LANs are useful, but they take on a whole new dimension when coupled with location-based services. Here's how being location-aware can benefit you..

More and more companies are now beginning to apply location-based services over WLANs to enable some rather interesting enhancements to applications. In general, a location-based system (LBS) keeps track of the position of users on the network as they roam through the facility. A centralized system collects and integrates this position information to drive additional functions that identify the position of users in relation to the facility and pertinent areas, such as information booths, emergency centers, stores, products, etc.

Let's take a closer look at how LBSs can offer value in various industries.

Healthcare

Within healthcare facilities, doctors, nurses, and sometimes patients, are very mobile. As a result, many hospitals have wireless LANs to support patient monitoring, electronic patient records, and narcotics tracking. In this situation, an LBS can also track doctors throughout the hospital, which enables a nurse to know if a particular doctor is nearby and able to take care of a specific emergency.

In addition, an LBS enables hospital staff to track the whereabouts of patients, and if they go astray or anything adverse happens to them, an alarming system will alert the closest doctors and nurses. For example, some homes for the elderly implement LBSs over wireless LANs to trigger an alarm when patients try to leave.

In addition to people, hospitals need to track expensive equipment that is often required to save lives. A LBS enables hospital administration to know the exact location of this equipment for accountability and usability purposes. If a nurse needs a specific portable x-ray machine in the emergency room, stat, the LBS can display where to find it.

Retail

Department stores and shopping malls can reap huge benefits from location-based systems. A customer can use their PDA to download an interactive store map and find the exact location of any item in the store. By entering a few search terms, the PDA can offer descriptions and directions to any products sold within the store.

This same concept also applies to shopping malls. A wireless LAN can cover the entire parking lot and inside of a large shopping mall, and customers using a wireless PDA are able to more easily find stores. Once a customer is in the mall, a real-time map constantly shows the shopper where each store is in relation to his/her position. The LBS can also send promotions from specific stores as the shopper passes them by.

Public Areas

A LBS also provides convenience to people in large public areas. In a convention center, for example, a wireless user can take advantage of moving maps that identify meeting rooms, position of vendors on a tradeshow floor, and emergency exits in relation to the position of the user.

As a patron using a wireless PDA passes a specific display case at a museum, an LBS can download voice and possibly video information describing the contents of the display. The user can move about the museum and receive location-based information, which enhances the learning and enjoyment of the visitor.

Similar to a convention center, wireless users within an airport can also easily find their way around using an LBS solution. For example, the LBS can display routes to various locations, such as restaurants, coffee shops, and emergency exits. Tenants within the airport can also display location-aware advertisements, which offer the airport a revenue stream for advertising in addition to network access.

Security

An LBS system can make the job of security guards immensely easier. The security control room can constantly track the position of every guard, alerting them when there is an incident occurring in their area. All of this traverses the wireless LAN. Of course this means that the wireless LAN requires enhanced security mechanisms to ensure this information is not available to thieves.

Stay tuned! In future tutorials, we'll take a closer look at what to consider when choosing an LBS that operates over a wireless LAN.

Jim Geier provides independent consulting services to companies developing and deploying wireless network solutions. He is the author of the book, Wireless LANs and offers computer-based training focusing on wireless LANs.

Originally published on .

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