Vendors adding to wireless location-tracking products

Ekahau, PanGo and Trapeze air wireless wares

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

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 $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.

PanGo's latest

PanGo’s new V3 tag is also Wi-Fi based. It uses an 11b/g chipset from G2 Microsystems, but it can transmit in either of two modes. In one, it’s a full 11b/g client associating fully with an access point. In the second, it lightly touches the access point, transmitting only its MAC address and battery status for identification and location purposes.

One difference from Ekahau is that the PanGo tag incorporates the Cisco Certified Extensions Tag Protocol, designed to link such devices with Cisco’s access points and its 2700 Location Appliance.

The V3 is 2.5” x 1.7” x 0.7”, which is large enough to accept one standard AA battery, and can wring out up to five years of operation, though that varies greatly depending on the actual application and the amount of communication between tag and access point.

It’s also configured with an alert button, to send preconfigured alerts or alarms. Once attached to an object, the tag can notice when it’s detached, and then automatically send a warning. It also incorporates a motion detector: When the object moves, the tag notices and can be programmed to transmit an alert.

The PanGo V3 tag is available now.

Trapeze's location play

To capitalize on what it sees as a burgeoning enterprise market for wireless asset tracking, Trapeze Networks is offering the LA200 Location Appliance, a rack-mounted box with software that can use an existing wireless LAN to track as many as 2,000 wireless devices, including wireless laptops and handhelds, and third-party active Wi-Fi tags.

The core technology is licensed from Newbury Networks. Among other things, Newbury uses a location technique called server-side pattern matching. Several wireless LAN access points collect the Received Signal Strength Indication reading from a given wireless client and pass this to the server software, which calculates the client’s position. Newbury says this is more accurate than other techniques.

A network administrator configures and manages the LA200 with a graphical dashboard application.

Trapeze’s chief, and formidable, rival for such a product is Cisco, with its 2700 Location Application. No other major WLAN vendors offer a similar solution on their own.

The LA200 ships this month for about $15,000.

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