Wi-Fi: it's all about location, location, location...

Soon network-connected trolleys will be able to talk to shoppers through a new positioning technology, telling them where to find a special offer

Positioning technology company Ekahau has released an updated version of its software, which allows devices to be physically tracked when they are connected to an 802.11 WLAN network.

The Ekahau Positioning Engine (EPE) 2.0 can locate 802.11-connected wireless PDAs, laptops and other terminals -- including voice over IP telephones -- to, the company claims, within about a metre.

The technology marks another potentially useful application for increasingly popular low-cost 802.11 WLAN equipment, also known as Wi-Fi. Ekahau's offering first hit the market in April last year, after development by a team at the University of Helsinki.

Petri Virsunen, Ekahau's senior strategic business development director, outlined several ways the location-based software can be used. For example, in a supermarket shoppers could use network-connected trolleys which notify them of aisles with special offers, or shop assistants and warehouse staff could be shown the nearest person able to carry out a task.

There are other companies hoping to tap this market but Virsunen told silicon.com: "Ours is the most accurate technology, which is important when you're talking about the width of a supermarket aisle, or trying to find someone."

One early customer is European wireless operator Elisa Communications and Ekahau is pursuing deals with operators, equipment companies and bodies such as the New York fire and police departments in the US. The company's existing partners include Accenture, Agere, HP and Sweden's Telia, known for its advanced public Wi-Fi hotspots, set up with the help of Symbol Technologies.

Given the cost of rolling out a private Wi-Fi network with at least three access points for triangulation purposes, Ekahau reckons there is a market for networks used primarily for location-based purposes as opposed to carrying other data.

Discover the latest developments in Wi-Fi, 3G, GPRS and other cutting-edge wireless technologies at ZDNet UK's Wireless News Section.

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