Well there is definitely some secret sauce in the InnerWireless RFID system, just not the secret
sauce that I expected in my earlier post. InnerWireless has expanded
their offerings beyond RF infrastructure to
include an RFID solution that is completely separate from their
distributed antenna system. In a follow up to my previous post, I talked with
Alastair Westgarth, Senior VP Product Service Line Management, at
InnerWireless. He told me that InnerWireless is providing a turn key
RFID solution. Although there's synergy between the two offerings,
InnerWireless can provide clients with either or both solutions.

According to Alastair, health care is InnerWireless' most important
vertical market. Unlike most commercial markets that depend on “best
effort” wireless coverage, health care is a more demanding market where
coverage and reliability can be life-critical. InnerWireless has been
looking at RFID market requirements for some time with particular
emphasis on health care. The key requirements they identified
were:

  • High confidence in location of tag 99.9% of time
  • Easy to install low cost infrastructure
  • Low entry cost

Unlike many industrial RFID applications, health care users need to
know precisely where tags are at all times. Due to the physical
structure of many hospitals and high costs of getting into ceilings, RFID
deployments can be expensive if receivers must be connected to power
and a local area network (LAN). Current Wi-Fi tag costs can also add
considerably to system cost. Given the competition for
capital budgets, most hospitals start with RFID pilot projects. Hospitals
must be able to deploy pilot-size RFID projects and realize a short
term ROI. Optimal RFID solutions will have a low entry cost.

The InnerWireless RFID solution is made up of 4 components: RFID tags,
beacons, an indoor positioning engine, and the master radio. As noted
in the press release
the system is based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, operating at 2.4Ghz.
The 802.15.4 (“15-4” to the cognoscenti) standard was chosen because of
its miserly power consumption, built in intelligence and – due to broad
adoption – low cost. Both tags and beacons are battery powered with an
estimated batter life of around 7 years. The beacons, about the size of
a
residential smoke detector, are placed on ceilings with Velcro or
mounting plates. All communications with beacons is wireless, so there
is no need to connect them to the network. The indoor positioning
engine runs on a closet server that is naturally connected to the
network for
systems integration and access by software clients. One indoor
positioning engine serves the needs of an entire campus or building.
There are redundant master radios (2 per floor) that
communicate with both tags and beacons.

The following is a basic use case for the RFID system. Tags are
configured to report their position at a specific interval. At the
preconfigured interval, the tag “wakes up” and communicates with any
beacons that are in range. The tag then transmits the data from nearby
beacons to the indoor positioning engine via the master radio. The
indoor positioning engine then returns a location for the tag, which is
available via a client or the XML/SOAP interface. The master radio can
also communicate directly with beacons to receive low-battery alerts and
to update beacon software. This interaction between tags, beacons and
the master radio represent a unique approach to determining position.
While the system does not utilize the InnerWireless distributed antenna
(which I certainly expected) the overall solution is consistent from a
value proposition perspective. Actually, by not using
the distributed antenna, the entry cost for the RFID system is reduced
considerably. Pricing for the system was not yet available, but initial
pilot deployments should run mid to low five figures depending on the
hospital's specific requirements.

Of course hospitals are interested in a lot more than simple asset
tracking, so integration with specialized vertical market software for
bed management, patient racking, and infant tracking is necessary. To
accommodate this integration, InnerWireless is using an XML/SOAP interface. Also
known as “web services”, this software technology is getting a lot of
attention lately (here and here). They're also working on an HL7 interface.

The InnerWireless distributed antenna system offers a unique enterprise
solution to the proliferation of wireless services throughout a health
care facility. The considerable cost to implement (or replace) multiple
WLANs, telemetry, and other radios can be a barrier to some sales
resulting in long sales cycles. This new RFID solution delivers the
same “never go in the ceiling” benefit, along with the ability to
deploy in multiple lower cost phases. This should help smooth revenue
by providing a higher volume of smaller sales.