This blog post was written by Florian Draisma, Product Manager Wireless Network Services, and Eelco de Vos, Service Manager SURFwireless.
Education and research institutions are seeking new opportunities for flexible work and study. Location-based services may be an answer to this. These are services to which location-based information relating to objects or people is added. Possible applications include gaining a quick overview of meeting room occupation rates, or an app that guides visitors through the building to the room they are looking for. SURFnet is examining the opportunities that location-based services can offer in education and research.
Developments in location-based services
We recently commissioned an exploratory study of the current market for location-based services. This showed that all of the major Wi-Fi providers (such as Cisco, Aruba/HP and Aerohive) provide the option of specifying the location of Wi-Fi clients. This can be done with a degree of accuracy of around 5 to 10 metres on Wi-Fi, which constitutes great opportunities for developing location-based services.
What’s more, increasing numbers of companies are focusing on the provision of location-based services. The research firm Gartner predicts that by 2020, over 30% of companies will use location-based services to track people and objects, in comparison to the current rate of 10%.
We spoke to a number of developers (Blue Honey, Lone Rooftop, Mapiq, Mazemaps and Movin) in order to prepare for our investigation. We are working with these partners to explore the services they might be able to provide to the SURF target group, whether as an extension of SURFwireless or as a standalone service.
Focus on privacy
The use of location detection techniques can lead to both deliberate and unintentional breaches of a user’s privacy, as it enables another user to determine where an individual is at what time. The installation of security cameras, which is also subject to public debate, is a comparable situation. Rules have since been established that govern the use of this technology.
SURFnet is not the only organisation looking at location-based services: Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens (the Dutch Personal Data Authority, or AP) has also carried out its own studies and drawn up requirements regarding the protection of privacy. According to these rules, the user must be informed in advance about the service, data must only be stored for a limited time, and data must be made anonymous.
What are SURFnet’s plans?
Although we do not yet know exactly what the future of location-based services will look like, it is clear (partly from the results of our study) that location-based services offer plenty of opportunities for flexible work and study. The best way to capitalise on these opportunities is through hands-on engagement with location-based services.
To this end, we are launching two pilots in 2017 involving institutions that are customers of SURFwireless. In these pilots, we are testing three possible applications for location-based services: route guidance through buildings, indoor navigation, and the localisation and tracking of people and objects. These pilots must conform to both the AP’s requirements and the SURF standards regarding privacy.
Discussions are also currently underway with developers. The aim is to make location-based services available for education and research, either as an extension of SURFwireless or as a standalone service. Privacy features are high on the agenda in these discussions too.
Involving education and research institutions
We wish to use these pilots to provide the most comprehensive response to questions from education and research institutions. We are gathering input from the field to supplement the three applications we are already looking at – route guidance, indoor navigation and the localisation of people and objects. We will launch a competition encouraging participants to submit innovative applications for location-based services, and we will use these ideas either in planned pilots or future iterations (depending on implementation).