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WiFi Location Tracking Vs. Optical Sensors

February 23rd, 2023 | 11 min. read

WiFi Location Tracking Vs. Optical Sensors


VergeSense is the industry leader in providing enterprises with a true understanding of their occupancy and how their offices are actually being used.

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Occupancy continues to be inconsistent from day to day, office to office, and company to company. And as a result, optimizing for real estate cost and employee experience has never been harder.

As the amount of technology options for understanding occupancy continues to grow, it can become confusing to know what the best solution is for your organization. 

From a quick glance at a website, it is easy for solutions to blend together and feel the same. However, not all occupancy tracking solutions are made equal:

  • There are different capabilities available on the market

  • They offer different benefits, depending on the solution

  • There are different costs, which depend on the level of sophistication of the solution

To make this evaluation easier, we will break down the pros and cons of two of the more common technologies that companies use to understand occupancy: WiFi location tracking and occupancy sensors. 

Let's begin unpacking which solution might be right for your workplace.

WiFi Location Tracking

WiFi location tracking gathers information on workplace occupancy by connecting to a company's IT infrastructure, like Ethernet and WiFi, and monitoring where its connected devices, such as phones and laptops, move within a building.

How Does WiFi Location Tracking Work?

WiFi location tracking determines the location of transmitting devices within workspaces. It utilizes existing WiFi access points or WiFi-enabled sensors to detect the signals emitted by devices. 

One of the most commonly used methods of collecting WiFi data is the Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) method which measures the strength of the WiFi signals received from the devices and uses this information to triangulate their location. 

Some applications also leverage more advanced WiFi positioning methods, such as Time of Arrival (ToA), Angle of Arrival (AoA), and Time Difference of Arrival (TDoA) techniques, which use the time and angle information of the WiFi signals to determine the location of the devices.

The Benefits of WiFi Location Tracking

1. WiFi location tracking is easy to implement 

Most WiFi tracking tools work with your existing network infrastructure and require no installation, so implementing is a quick and easy process. 

Since WiFi location tracking is based on access points, you don’t need to install any sensors, as they rely on picking up transmissions, rather than having a direct field of view into your spaces.

2. WiFi location tracking leverages existing infrastructure 

Since WiFi data is drawn from localization with existing WiFi networks, you don’t need to install any additional hardware as you would need to for a sensor based solution. 

As a result, you can begin getting baseline data immediately. It is important to note, however, that this data is usually of low fidelity and indicates the number of devices connected to the network, rather than the number of individuals in the space. As a result, it is challenging to make occupancy-related decisions with WiFi data. 

The Drawbacks of WiFi Location Tracking

1. It costs the same as optical sensors but is less accurate

WiFi location tracking and optical sensor technology costs the same, however the data gleaned from optical sensor technology such as VergeSense is 2x more accurate than any WiFi solution on the market. 

2. The large margin of error renders WiFi data inaccurate and can skew decision-making 

The margin of error with WiFi tracking data can be as large as 10 meters (32.8 feet), compared to 0.3 meters (1 foot) with optical sensors. 

Therefore, it is 33 times more accurate to use optical sensor technology as compared to a WiFi tracking solution. WiFi tracking solutions are accurate to 33 feet, while optical sensors are accurate to one foot. 

Since WiFi data does not take into account partitioning, a margin of error that large can completely skew your data set, making people seem to be occupying spaces that they are not, leading to uninformed decision-making, especially surrounding space optimization.

3. Double counting makes WiFi location tracking 2x less accurate than optical sensor technology

WWiFi location tracking data relies on people connecting their devices to the WiFi, while this can be expected behavior for laptops, employees don't always bring it with them as they move around the office, especially to spaces like cafeterias and lounge areas. Therefore, you are counting devices, not humans. 

Conversely, you may be double or even triple counting your occupants depending on how many devices they bring to the office. 

Some employees don't even bring their laptops to meetings in order to stay more engaged. If employees are not connected to the WiFi on their phone, you could be missing vital movement and usage patterns.

Additionally, depending on the density of access points in the office, you may or may not be able to count occupancy with WiFi tracking solutions. As a result, the dataset that emerges is of extremely low fidelity. 

4. Data from WiFi location tracking isn’t actionable

After collecting WiFi data, you would need access to a data scientist to render the insights actionable. 

It is challenging to extract usable insights from WiFi tracking, and even then, it is inaccurate, which leaves you guessing. 

Although the cost of WiFi tracking and optical sensor technology is the same, the likelihood of getting incorrect data when using WiFi tracking is high, and there is an additional cost to delegate data extraction to another employee or team altogether. 

5. WiFi location tracking fails to capture passive occupancy, which means you are missing out on 50% of your occupancy data

In addition to assuming that all devices are connected to WiFi and you somehow have the capability to deduplicate device count and match them to human beings - WiFi location tracking can’t possibly capture and analyze passive occupancy.   In today's world of dynamic and flexible workplaces, people are on the move in-office more than ever before, leaving behind their bags, laptops, and coats within  spaces for their return. This concept is known as passive occupancy and it comprises 50% of your total workplace occupancy. 

Missing out on this data means you are missing half your occupancy data.

Optical Sensors

Optical sensors not only accurately understand people count, but can also provide context of what is happening within spaces, which is what makes them the backbone of an occupancy tracking solution.

How Do Optical Sensors Work?

Optical sensors detect people count as well as when spaces are actively and passively occupied by identifying humans and common objects that are associated with human presence. 

They are powered by anonymous computer vision technology, which means that these occupancy sensors go beyond just counting people in spaces to actually understanding how these spaces are being used. 

They detect when spaces are actively and passively occupied by identifying humans and common objects that are associated with human presence. They do this by converting light into an image, which then uses AI to derive information from that image. 

VergeSense optical sensors generate low-resolution imagery on the device and uses ELS technology (edge-processing, low-resolution, and secure) to keep employee privacy protected. This means that the low resolution image derived is immediately destroyed once the AI derives information from it in the form of 0’s and 1’s. 

Other optical sensor solutions, such as XY Sense, use edge-processing high-resolution cameras.

 Benefits of Optical Sensors

1. They accurately capture activity in your spaces

For optimizing your portfolio, optical sensors cost the same as WiFi location tracking but are 2x more accurate, as there are no concerns of double counting. For space optimization, optical sensors combined with a sophisticated platform provide a true understanding of people count, active occupancy and passive occupancy, and are available in both wired and wireless options. 

Because this technology does not rely on a certain human behavior such as connecting to WiFi or badging in to be correct, optical sensors are among the most precise in the industry. 

For example, the VergeSense platform uses optical sensors to provide data with 95%+ accuracy. Optical sensors are twice as accurate as a WiFi tracking solution, and eliminates the risk of double counting that WiFi data can pose. 

2. They generate actionable insights

The most advanced optical sensors use sophisticated AI to process the data that they capture, which constantly improves their understanding of every space over time. The AI generates insights into people count, active occupancy, and passive occupancy, and computer vision automates the collection of insights and adapts it to employee behavior.

Because these sensors leverage a holistic understanding of the people, objects, characteristics, and interactions happening within workplaces, they can provide contextualized utilization insights unlike any other sensor technology on the market. 

3. Optical sensors provide insight into passive occupancy, unlocking 50% of your occupancy story

As mentioned previously, passive occupancy is when people leave their bags, laptops or coats with the intention of returning to the space.

 In today’s world of dynamic space use, employees are always moving around the office and are likely to step out of their room for a coffee break only to return a few moments later. Passive occupancy will indicate that their space is occupied, and prevent it from being released to someone else when it is in use but not actively occupied at that moment. 

The VergeSense platform consists of the only optical sensor technology on the market that can measure passive occupancy, which constitutes 50% of space use. This kind of inaccuracy can impact your metrics greatly, as you would be making workplace decisions with incomplete data. 

4. They are private and secure

Optical sensors convert light into images, which then uses AI to derive binary code from the image. This technology automatically anonymizes all data captured so that no personal information is ever captured, transmitted, or stored. 

These platforms are built for mature enterprises where security and privacy have strict requirements. As a result, most optical sensor technologies and their associated platforms are GDPR CPIA, ISO/ IEC 27001  and SoC2 Type II compliant.

Concerned that optical sensors may violate your company’s privacy policies? Learn more here. 

The Drawbacks of Optical Sensors

1. Longer installation process than a WiFi system

Optical sensors are a lot more complex than most occupancy tracking technologies, let alone WiFi tracking specifically. 

The complexity of the product means that the installation process can take a bit longer. This, however, depends on the square footage of space in your portfolio as well as the number of sensors being deployed. 

At VergeSense, installation and implementation is typically completed between 60 and 90 days.  This is the fastest time to value of any optical sensor technology on the market. 

2. Employees May Distrust Optical Sensors 

Optical sensors are often incorrectly associated with an ability to track and monitor individual human beings in a way that violates their privacy. All sensors (optical, thermal, etc) have the ability to anonymously capture human behavior, but due to lack of education on the technical specifications of the device and how it works, there is often a misconception that employees are being monitored through the use of cameras.  And this could not be farther from the truth. 

This fallacy can dissuade the adoption of this technology. These fears often emerge from a lack of knowledge of how these sensors work, and therefore providing transparency when introducing the technology to your company is paramount, whether it is a WiFi system or a new sensor technology. 

This fallacy exists around most occupancy tracking solutions, WiFi included, which begs the question of who can view the sites searched connected to the WiFi network, as well as the messages sent or received while connected to the network. Therefore, transparency is crucial when introducing any new technology. 

The reality of smart offices today is that nearly every intelligent device, from Google Home to Alexa, has some form of optical technology designed to drive accuracy. It is the fear of who has access to this data that impedes these investments. 

Should I Invest In WiFi Location Tracking or Optical Sensors?

Making an investment in workplace technology is not a decision to take lightly. While countless hours of research and discussing solutions will be behind your final decision, knowing where to start is key to making the process smoother.

WiFi Location Tracking Might Be Right For You If...

If you are a small to medium sized business in need of a baseline understanding of workplace occupancy, WiFi data may be a sufficient short-term solution to meet your needs. Other characteristics that may suggest WiFi data suiting your organization's needs include:

  • You don’t have a global workplace portfolio

  • You have a delegated data scientist or team of data scientists to parse and deduplicate your WiFi data. 

  • You have less than 1000 employees

  • You only need to track employee attendance

Optical Sensors Might Be Right For You If...

If you are a large enterprise with a predominantly in-office or hybrid workforce, you need accurate, contextualized data driving your decisions. Other characteristics that optical sensors may be best for your organization include:

  1. A global real estate portfolio

  2. More than 5,000 employees

  3. The need to optimize your portfolio by either adding more space or reducing space

  4. The need to make space optimization decisions surrounding space design, planning, cleaning, and/or availability.

  5. A hybrid or in-office workforce

So, What Solutions Should You Consider?

If you have determined that WiFi data may suit your needs, Locatee and Hubstar are great options to consider. Both of these companies are among the best WiFi solutions on the market.

On the other hand, if optical sensors seem to meet the needs of your organization, VergeSense and XY Sense are two of the best and most established optical sensor technologies in the world. 

If you would like to connect with an expert from VergeSense to learn more about our platform, discuss solution ideas, or get a demo, connect with us here. We are excited to hear from you! If for some reason we may not be the best fit for you, we can help point you in another direction.

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