smartphone researchWith indoor use of cellphones on the rise, handset vendors are pursuing indoor alternatives to current location-technology based on the global positioning system, said ABI Senior Analyst Patrick Connolly in an interview.

According to ABI’s forecast, one billion new smartphones will use indoor location technologies in 2018 — and ABI believe many of these devices will use a hybrid approach that combines multiple location technologies.  These include options that use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and near-field communications.

Connolly noted that Macy’s already is using WiFi-based technology to identify customers that have a Macy’s app when they come into a store. The Bluetooth option, known as BLE for “Bluetooth low-energy,” uses a low-cost beacon installed in a retail outlet, to achieve similar functionality.

A third option, known as “sensor fusion vita,” uses pressure sensors and the like to track when a smartphone comes into the sensor’s vicinity. Connolly sees the latter as a means of “keeping a fix on a car” when it goes into a tunnel or other area where traditional GPS technology doesn’t work.

The new indoor location technologies, like GPS, are largely the domain of the handset vendors and individual retailers, who ultimately are expected to use the technologies for targeted marketing. For example, Connolly said it’s only a matter of time before a user’s smartphone knows the user is at home and suggests the user watch programming on a specific channel that he or she is likely to enjoy, based on previous consumption patterns.

As these capabilities become more sophisticated, it would seem that wireless network operators increasingly will find themselves competing with smartphone vendors for opportunities to provide marketers with opportunities to target end users based on location. As Connolly noted, wireless networks operators in some areas, including the U.S., were required to deploy location-based technology to support wireless 9-1-1 services — although they achieve that capability in a different manner that triangulates location based on the users’ proximity to specific cell sites. As carriers pursue small cell rollouts to enhance coverage in high-traffic areas, their ability to pinpoint a users’ location will be enhanced, Connolly noted.

Asked if he’d ever heard of a network operator asking a smartphone vendor to turn off the handset-based location capability, Connolly said, “It’s out of their control now. The carriers don’t have that much clout.”


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