Scalability. Choosing an indoor positioning technology

This post is part of the “Choosing an indoor positioning technology” series. The series aims to help anybody evaluating and buying Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS) to ask the right questions and make better informed decisions. This post focuses on Scalability. If you are only after the core message and evaluation criteria, you can skip ahead and simply focus on the bolded text. 

Series Background  

Choosing an Indoor Positioning System for use cases such as indoor wayfinding is often a daunting task. Complex technologies, foreign terminology and a large pool of vendors with varying value propositions can easily overwhelm anyone. Most companies will pitch you their solution or compare different technologies and their respective advantages and disadvantages. However, the truth is that the fit of an indoor positioning technology depends upon the use case you want to solve. Therefore, instead of pitching our solution and contrasting its performance to others, we thought we will give you a tool to evaluate different technologies for your intended use case. 

More specifically, we will present to you a range of suboptimal questions we see many customers ask and explain why they are suboptimal. Then we will present to you a set of questions we believe are more appropriate given prior explanations. These questions you should ask yourself and/or the vendor you are evaluating, in order to make a better decision on the solution you need.  

The wrong questions to ask about scalability

For anybody in charge of purchasing a SaaS solution the word Scalability is usually synonymous for Cost. While this is certainly one important aspect to ask questions about, scalability is a multifaceted topic. Herein lies the main problem when evaluating indoor positioning systems (IPS). You might focus on one or two aspects based on your prior knowledge of IPS solutions and are unaware of the others. In the worst case, you might be too far into the decision-making process or even deployment to be able to fix problems arising from limited scalability. Therefore, there are no wrong questions you can ask about scalability, rather you could end up asking not enough questions.

The right questions to ask about scalability

To avoid overlooking some limitations to really scale the technology you are purchasing, we have compiled a comprehensive list of questions you could consider. Think about your use case and how it would affect it. Furthermore, think about future and more advanced use cases that you could develop and if the questions might have a different implication for those.

  1. What are the device types supported?
    You will encounter usually 3 options: tags, smart devices (phones or tables) or both. Regarding smart devices its important to understand whether the technology supports the majority of operating systems (e.g. iOS & Android).
  2. What versions of the device types are supported?
    This is easily overlooked. Think about the number of different iPhones and the number of different software versions there are. Ask specifically how backward compatible the technology is, in other words how many old software versions does the technology support.
  3. Is there a limit on number devices that can be used simultaneously?
    Some IPS technologies have a bandwidth limit. This means that only allow a limited number of devices can use the IPS solution at the same time.
  4. Is hardware required?
    Scalability always decreases with the introduction of hardware. Hence, it is important to understand how much hardware is required if at all. However, only evaluating a solution based on its hardware requirement alone is misleading. It’s misleading because typically there are strong benefits associated with hardware solutions compared to hardware-free solutions. For example, solutions not using hardware usually underperform in accuracy compared to other solutions that are using hardware. Therefore, you should ask a few follow-up questions that need to better compare the different solutions out there.
  5. If hardware is required, what is the cost for each hardware item and the density of the hardware required for my intended accuracy?
    This will allow you to accurately compare different technologies and estimate costs, since you are keeping accuracy as a constant. For example, you might see that for some hardware-free solutions which utilize infrastructure you already have (e.g. WiFi routers) you need more routers to get the same accuracy. Depending on the hardware cost it might be less expensive to choose the solution requiring hardware.
  6. Is cabling required and how much energy will the solution consume?
    You should not only think about the hardware itself, but also how it will be powered. For example, some solutions that run on batteries can last for multiple years and might be cheaper to operate than others that need to be cabled.
  7. If hardware is required, how does the installation process look like, how expensive is it and how long does it take?
    Think about the installation process as a whole. Are you allowed to do it yourself or do you need specialists and custom equipment?
  8. What are the unit economics of the solution and how much will it cost me in the long run?
    This is the one question nobody forgets to ask, but we thought to include it just for the sake of having all questions in here.

We hope that these questions will help you to assess and compare different IPS solutions better and more holistically, when evaluating scalability.


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