real-time location system (RTLS)

Contributor(s): Paul DeBeasi

What is a real-time location system?

A real-time location system (RTLS) is one of a number of technologies that detects the current geolocation of a target, which may be anything from a vehicle to an item in a manufacturing plant to a person. RTLS-capable products are used in an ever-increasing number of sectors including supply chain management (SCM), health care, the military, retail, recreation, and postal and courier services.

RTLS is typically embedded in a product, such as a mobile phone or a navigational system. Most such systems consist of wireless nodes -- typically tags or badges -- that emit signals and readers that receive those signals. Current real-time location systems are based on wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ultrawideband, RFID, and GPS.

 RTLS applications include:

  • Fleet tracking: Fleet-tracking RTLS systems make it possible for an enterprise to track vehicle location and speed, optimize routes, schedule jobs, aid navigation and analyze driver efficiency.
  • Navigation: The most basic navigation services provide directions for how to get from Point A to Point B. Incorporating GPS, mapping and mobile cellular technology will enable more complex navigation services.
  • Inventory and asset tracking: RFID technologies are widely used for asset and inventory tracking. RFID tags communicate wirelessly with RFID readers throughout the enterprise.
  • Personnel tracking: Different technologies are used for on-site personnel and workers in the field. Systems that track field workers are typically GPS-enabled mobile phones. On-site personnel tracking systems often use RFID technology, such as RFID-enabled badges.
  • Network security: Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) can limit the physical area from which a user can connect to restrict access based on the user's location.

See also: location-based service (LBS)

Learn More About IT:
> Wikipedia includes more information about RTLS and related technologies.
> The RTLS blog includes industry-specific news and research related to real-time location systems.
> Shamus McGillicuddy writes about 'Wi-Fi RTLS for WLAN management, location-based security, asset tracking.'
> Linda Tucci explains how 'GPS devices, geolocation data create privacy, security risks.'

This was last updated in October 2009

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RTLS is closely connected to IoT, Big Data and smart technologies. It can enable a company to reach real-time visibility of people and assets and this way improve processes. RTLS are often confused with RFID. While RFID has been one of the first technologies used for location tracking, various technologies can be used today for different applications. RTLS technologies can vary from so called last-known location systems (knowing the latest position of an item near reader), proximity-based systems (knowing if something is in proximity or not) to true real-time and fully accurate systems, which can pinpoint location on a live map. Industries and types of facilities with the highest demand for RTLS systems are usually warehousing, supply chain, healthcare, mining, airports, retail and many others. Large facilities in these industries can easily save millions thanks to accurately tracking their assets This book RTLS for Dummies can be a good starting point for anybody even though it has a few years already.