Location tracking in the Internet of Things is heating up as an issue.
While tracking smartphone locations has become relatively standard over the last several years, the tracking of IoT devices is relatively new.
Much of the past tracking, at least of phones, has been done using GPS, which is generally OK but not totally precise. Various app check-ins have somewhat helped that along.
Geofencing also has gotten better during that time and beacons are now installed at least in pilot programs in stores of most major retailers.
Location tracking is improving, which many marketers are likely to welcome.
Location capabilities also came up during a discussion at the seventh annual FutureM conference in Boston yesterday.
“Location services is a really big opportunity,” said Scott Hudler, SVP and chief digital office of Dunkin’ Brands. “I think the runway for that is pretty significant. We think that beacons have a ton of potential. From a retailer’s standpoint, there’s still some work that needs to be done.”
After his marketing conference presentation, Hudler told me that, at least in the case of Dunkin’, much more location precision is needed.
For example, a person ordering would have to be precisely tracked to be delivered the correct order, which GPS and beacons don’t yet do.
Jessica Gelman, CEO of Kraft Analytics Group, echoed the same sentiments regarding the use of beacons at Patriots Place, the home of the New England Patriots. She said that with so many people together, beacons are not precise enough, though they are being used for more general customer services, such as showing how long lines are at various concessions stands.
The good news for location-based marketing is that a lot is going on behind the scenes.
For example, Philips Lighting is installing LED lighting with indoor positioning across Carrefour’s hypermarkets in France, as I wrote about here in July (Smart Lights In Stores Match Shoppers With Products.)
The tracking capabilities of these systems are significantly more accurate than beacons or geofences and can locate a smartphone to within 8 to 12 inches.
Such connected lights will extend beyond the insides of stores.
For example, Verizon last week said it was acquiring Sensity Systems, a California company that specializes in connected LED lighting found in smart city installations.
That lighting is marketed to be able to track how many people walk by a store, what percentage go in, how long they stay in the store and how often they come back.
All of those types of tracking devices essentially are stable; they stay where they are installed and typically ping a smartphone so that the phone then signals its location based on the triggering by the stationary device.
Now a Boston-based company is launching a new capability that adds more precise location tracking inside actual IoT devices.
The technology, from Skyhook, a 10-year old company recently acquired by Liberty Media, incorporates Wi-Fi, GPS and cell tower signals together to more precisely identify location.
The company already tracks more than 2 billion Wi-Fi access points and uses its tracking technologies to geofence very large locations, such as sports stadiums, as I wrote about here a while back (Internet Of Things Meets Location-Informed Advertising).
Skyhook’s location technology is in tens of millions of phones around the world and the company basically captures Wi-Fi scans from those phones as they pass near any signals being sent from nearby Wi-Fi routers.
The new IoT feature allows this tracking technology to be moved into small, moving, connected objects, such as smartwatches and fitness trackers.
“It would make you more trackable to the store,” David Bairstow, Skyhook’s vice president of product, told me.
Besides industrial applications, such as pallets of goods traveling around the globe, the new version of Skyhook tracking can work in pretty much any device that has Wi-Fi capability.
This would make tracking a consumer going to and arriving at a location much more precise and marketing and advertising to that person much more targeted and relevant along with it.
In the Internet of Things, anything that moves and can be connected, will be connected.
And it will be tracked.