Vendors adding to wireless location-tracking products

Wireless vendors Ekahau, PanGo and Trapeze Vendor showcase new wares

A trio of vendors are adding or extending their wireless products for location services and tracking.

New Wi-Fi-based tags from Ekahau and PanGo offer smaller form factors and extended battery life. PanGo is also releasing a new version of its core software platform for wireless location services. And WLAN vendor Trapeze Vendor has rolled out a location appliance, based on the hardware and software from Newbury Networks.

The location-services market covers a wide range of wireless technologies for indoor and outdoor tracking and identification. The Yankee Group estimated the 2005 global market to be about US$20 million, but to reach US$1.6 billion by 2010. Two groups of vendors are in this market, both of them small, according to the Yankee study. One group includes WhereNet, Radianse and RF Code. Typically, these companies use unlicensed, but lower frequency, spectrum. A newer group, including AeroScout, Ekahau and PanGo, have developed location tracking products specifically based on IEEE 802.11 radios.

Ekahau dubs its newest radio tracking device a "people tag," because it's essentially a radio-equipped ID badge, due out late this year. The T301-B tag is about the size of ¼-inch-thick credit card. Its built-in 802.11b radio, based on silicon from G2 Microsystems, lets Ekahau's software pinpoint the badge-wearers location, or lets the badge-wearer press one or two buttons, all sealed under plastic, to send an alert or a confirmation.

2-line, illuminated screen

One model has a 2-line, illuminated screen, 30 characters to a line, which can be used to display short text messages. The screen uses what's called organic light-emitting diode technology: The light-emitting layer uses organic compounds in a polymer that can be printed onto a surface. The result is a display that's easily visible in bright sunlight and is self-illuminating, which means it doesn't soak up battery power with a backlight function.

The tag has a small loop at one end, for attaching a strap so it can be hung around the neck. If someone tries to steal the badge by grabbing it, the strap tugs on the loop, which opens slightly, triggering a radio-transmitted alarm.

The badge is resistant to water and other fluids but not completely sealed: It has a charging port at one end, so its battery can be recharged. For medical uses, it can be wiped safely with a paper towel dipped in bleach or an antibacterial solution. Ekahau offers rechargers that can restore a fully depleted battery in two to three hours.

The tag communicates with the Ekahau Positioning Engine software. The vendor provides a simple text-message application or customers can create their own via XML and the Engine's API.

The new tag is scheduled to be released later this year. Pricing is not set but the company says it will be more expensive than its existing Wi-Fi asset tag, which has a starting price of US$50.

3M announced last month that it was selecting the Ekahau location system, including server and application software and radio tags, as the basis of its own Track and Trace Solutions product line. The 3M group offers wireless tracking based on an array of wireless technologies, and industry-specific applications.

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