Impressions On Nokia’s Upcoming Indoor Positioning Technology

I had recently attended a Q&A on three of Nokia’s upcoming innovations – Near Field Communication (NFC), Indoor Positioning and Connected Home, and in a prior post, I had brought you my impressions on NFC, this post will cover the Indoor Positioning. These technologies are part of the legends on display at the Legends Telegraph website.


Check this video on the Indoor Postitoning legend out, if you haven’t already. Now lets start with Indoor Positioning. The Q&A started with Brett from Nokia explaining what it was. The basic Indoor Positioning technology developed by Nokia uses existing WiFi access points and your phone’s ability to detect and connect to a WiFi signal (something most high-ed phones can now do).  The phone uses a map of the facility with WiFi access points mapped across it (with their associated MAC addresses) and then uses signal strength detection to determine approximately where it is.  This alone provides resolution down to a general area of a building (including what floor you are on), and based upon where walls are and the orientation of the access points can infer to a finer resolution.  With the addition of special sensor arrays developed by Nokia and cheap “tags”, the resolution quick gets down to a meter or two.

  • Firstly, what is it useful for? Here are a few possible scenarios – In large offices you could find co-workers, locate available conference rooms, or find the nearest copying machine.  In a museum you could go on a tour right from your phone, and the device would automatically detect what exhibit you are standing infront of and deliver appropriate information.  In a stadium you could see where your fellow spectators are and enter via the least busy gate, or know which bathrooms were least crowded during a break.  In an airport you can be guided to your gate, the nearest newsstand or an information desk.
  • So at what stage in the developmental process of this technology are we? Nokia has had extensive internal trials with over 50 Nokia facilities mapped and several public locations as well. Nokia will provide an online mapping tool (that will work within a web browser) so users can generate maps of any location they desire and then contribute the maps to a public database.
  • User created Maps? The user will create the map and Nokia will provide super-simple tools to do so that will be embedded in a web application. The user can simply upload a JPG and trace it with a vector outline tool (kind of like Adobe Illustrator) to create the basic map. Then you can define areas (e.g., food court, department store, etc).
  • WIFI? Basically this technology runs off WiFi networks, without WiFi there is no Indoor Positioning. It can leverage existing networks and no special equipment is needed.
  • When can we see this for real? Anticipate a beta launch in early 2009 to the public. The beta will be worldwide, it’s up to the users to map the locations they care about.
  • What happens if the WiFi hotspots are moved? If the WiFi spots are moved or updated, the map has to be updated too.
  • Some that was bothering me – Since the technology works on WiFi networks and estimates the position by the signal strength – how would the phone know wherther I am on the top floor or the ground if the WiFi is positioned in the middle and both top and below have equal signal strength? Brett: Good question on the floors! Generally a floor is so solidly built in commercial structures that it kills a signal from below or above (or dramatically weakens it). So it’s easy to know what floor by what access point is strong.
  • Some of this tech will also involve traditional AGPS or higher sensitivity chips or just rely on WiFi? We have special arrays we’ve developed that will get the sensitivity way up.
  • All said and done if there is no internal WiFi, indoor positioning is a no go. Is that a sad but true thing? It is true.  We need some signal for the phone to read to assess location in some way.

I see potential in this technology, but the absolute dependence on WIFI bothers me. There are countries where public WIFI is popular, but what about those where it isn’t? User generated maps is also a concern, although with active beta testers we would see a healthy growth in this field. To conclude, I will have to say I will continue to remain a little skeptical till I actually try it out.

What do you think, does this technology interest you?

4 thoughts on “Impressions On Nokia’s Upcoming Indoor Positioning Technology”

  1. Except I’m in large building with more than three floors I would be interested. But still, I think I’ll find smth much faster on my own than using my phone.

  2. this tech. is really very interesting..especially it’s use to figure out the least crowded places or similar especially in airports and stadiums.
    I’ll certainly go for this app.

  3. I am very excited by the idea of indoor positioning but must admit to being a little dissapointed in the Kamppi map itself. Its so difficult to read on a mobile as all the graphics and text are so small. I also agree with the point about the availability of wifi. For example it is not that popular in my country and if it was it is certainly expensive foe a shopping mall to install wifi in enough locations to enable using it for indoor position-finding. At least its a start though and hopefully can only improve.

    Meantime I have built my own indoor positioning system specially for indoor locations not having wifi. OK so you cant find your location automatically you have to select it manually but once done the map assists in navigating you around the mall.

    For the future I want to experiemnt with other means of auto locating your mobile indoors – perhaps with bluetooth. Then want to add these to my app.

  4. It all sounded great until I got to the bit that stated…”With the addition of special sensor arrays developed by Nokia and cheap tags”…if I need to supplement my WiFi equipment with other equipment then it all becomes very priority very quickly. What we need is a standard like GPS which interoperates with all equipment.

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