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From the Mobile World Congress 2016: precise, secure “location intelligence” is the key for IoT’s success

February 23rd, 2016 |  Published in Mobile World Congress 2016

[footnote_exclude]MWC 2016 logo long[/footnote_exclude]



IoT location data


By:  Gregory P. Bufithis, Esq.  Founder/CEO

23 February 2016 –  It’s easy to dismiss the “Internet of Things” moniker as just a sexy new name for machine-to-machine M2M) applications, which have been a commercial reality for decades. But marketing goals aside, the IoT name reflects the fact that the M2M market[footnote_exclude][/footnote_exclude] has evolved beyond simple point solutions, such as automated meter readings and tracking inventory in vending.

This evolution requires a new and fundamentally different approach for locating IoT devices and then beyond that, securing and sharing their location information. Without those, IoT won’t live up to its potential – and hype. It requires highly precise location information which enables a wider range of value-added services, such as triggering an action, based on a device’s proximity to something.

Tomorrow I will address in a longer post the whole concept of “location intelligence” — much discussed at the event this week — but first: why achieving that precision is helped — and occasionally hindered — by several industry trends outside of IoT. And my thanks to

Jaak Laineste

Jaak Laineste of Cartdb


Margus Tiru

Margus Tiru of Positium

for their time (and incredible patience) in explaining all of this to me. And to


Laura de Larco of Dxo

who, while not involved in location intelligence, updated me on the incredible advances in location imaging on mobile phones, especially iPhones.

I will have a separate video interview with each of them in the coming weeks.

Oh, and kudos to the whole team at Galigeo for some brilliant white papers.

Any errors below are mine alone.

Increased use of “small cells.”

Small cells cover anywhere from 10 meters to 1 kilometer, depending on the type, versus multiple kilometers of coverage for traditional “macro cells.” Mobile operators are now deploying more small cells than macro cells because of customer demand for both capacity and speed. Today, the small cells’ limited coverage area helps to enable more precise location of IoT devices. But tomorrow, small cells could have just the opposite effect, thanks to another trend: carrier aggregation. When an IoT service aggregates carriers from multiple small cells, the process of locating a device now spans a larger area.

The debut of centimeter and millimeter bands for 5G.

To alleviate the spectrum crunch, standards work is underway to use these 5G bands. Since signals don’t travel far at these ultra-high frequencies, each cell site will cover a smaller area, which enables more precise locations. But just as with small cells, carrier aggregation could undermine this benefit. Supplementing GPS with other satellite systems. GPS-based location fixes can sometimes be obstructed, impacting performance and taking up to 24 seconds.

Supplementing GPS with other satellite networks increases the probability of receiving enough signals to determine an accurate position.

Delays are problematic when locating callers in distress, which is why the mobile industry is considering supplementing GPS with other satellite networks.

One example is Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), which is already widely supported by the iPhone and other smartphones. However, some IoT users and regulators are concerned about relying on satellite networks controlled by a foreign entity, that could allow for manipulation of location data. This risk can be mitigated by comparing a foreign networks’ location information to GPS and other trusted domestic sources to identify any suspicious discrepancies. On the upside, IoT can leverage the growing installed base of GLONASS-equipped chipsets to get location information faster and with up to 2.5 times less errors.

Wi-Fi’s ubiquity and the growing use of Bluetooth.

Wi-Fi coverage keeps increasing in public areas, as does the use of Bluetooth for proximity-based mobile marketing. Both technologies have small coverage areas, so IoT can leverage one or both to enable highly precise location information. They also can be useful for providing three-dimensional location information, such as the altitude of a device. That granularity is particularly valuable for mission-critical applications and high-value assets, such as patient-monitoring IoT devices in a large hospital.


Obtaining precise location information for IoT devices is key to enabling a wider range of use cases and value-added services, but it’s also just a piece of the puzzle. With many applications, it is necessary to verify location information to ensure a device really is where the information claims it is.

Another trend that comes into play, and with it another help or hindrance situation, is the increased use of open-source software for telecom networks and devices. When source code is in the public domain, it is often less expensive to utilize. Yet, it’s easier for hackers to exploit than proprietary software that vendors closely guard. For instance, hackers could use open-source to enable spoofing of an IoT device’s location, such as to hijack a shipment of high-value assets.

There are ways to minimize spoofing and one is to embed security mechanisms so deep in IoT devices – the ROM or the silicon – that they’re inaccessible to hackers. Another is to use a cloud based location platform, which in real time, analyzes the different signals being reported by the IoT device and then compares them to corresponding data from trusted sources. It would then spot any inconsistencies that could indicate tampering.

The benefit of the cloud solution is that it enables seamless IoT service, across multiple mobile operators. This eliminates the historical tracking of devices as they crossed multiple network boundaries and multiple operators, which led to increased costs. Although M2M/IoT applications have been in wide commercial use for decades, the market is still small and nascent. Unlocking its full potential requires new approaches to locating IoT devices and then securing and sharing that information.

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