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IEEE Transactions on Consumer Electronics, Vol. 53, No.

2, MAY 2007


A Real-Time Indoor WiFi Localization System Utilizing

Smart Antennas
Chin-Heng Lim, Yahong Wan, Boon-Poh Ng, Chong-Meng Samson See
Abstract In this paper, we study issues associated with
the implementation of a real-time WiFi localization system for
an indoor environment. This system utilizes smart antennas to
receive signal strength from a mobile target (access point)
and send the signal strength information to a data processing
station. This information is combined to find the direction of
arrival of the signal and triangulate the mobile target
position. No prior radio-frequency finger-printing is required,
thus reducing the computational complexity. We present
experimental results to illustrate the performance and
accuracy of the localization system for an indoor environment
Index Terms indoor WiFi localization, smart antennas,
beamforming, triangulation.

Wireless local area networks (WLANs) are becoming
increasingly popular today, particularly those based on the
IEEE 802.11b/g (WiFi) standards [1]. There are many mobile
computing devices and WLANs, such that it has become
important to determine the location of a device at any point in
time, especially in an indoor environment. Applications
include locating essential equipment in hospitals.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) covers most of the
earths surface and GPS chipsets are continually decreasing in
cost, making it feasible for them to be integrated into many
mobile devices. However, GPS is unreliable when it comes to
indoor or urban environments, like the canyons formed by
high-rise buildings, because GPS transmissions are blocked.
There are currently a number of indoor location-sensing
determination systems that utilize a WiFi network
infrastructure. Many of these use deterministic, statistical or
probabilistic approaches [2], [3] for geo-location. The
standard methodology involves an off-line training and
calibration phase in which RF-to-location signal strength
databases are constructed. These databases are then used for
triangulating the targets location during the online locationsensing phase [4].
As observed in [5] and echoed in some other existing
works, pre-generated signal strength databases are assumed to
be static. This means that the databases are generated once and
This work is supported by the Defence Science and Technology Agency,
Chin-Heng Lim is with Temasek Laboratories@NTU, Singapore 637553
Yahong Wan and Boon-Poh Ng are with the School of Electrical and
Electronic Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
639798 (email:
Chong-Meng Samson See is with DSO National Laboratories, Singapore
118230 (e-mail:

Contributed Paper
Manuscript received February 16, 2007

deployed for future use without any further updates. This

assumption may be valid in a controlled and isolated test
environment but it fails in a real-life situation due to
environment changes. Radio frequency (RF) signal
propagation is affected by a number of factors such as multipath fading, temperature and humidity variations, opening and
closing of doors, furniture relocations and the presence and
mobility of human beings. The accuracy of the off-line phase
also depends on when/how the training data was collected and
the orientation of the WLAN device. This problem of
fluctuating WiFi signals over time has been documented in
previous publications [3], [5].
Smart antennas are also widely used in localization systems.
In [6], the hardware for employing digital beamforming in
WLAN surveillance is described while the use of smart
antennas for ultra-wideband localization is introduced in [7].
However, both of the references do not provide experimental
results for their proposed localization systems.
In this paper, we propose a real-time indoor WiFi
localization system that utilizes smart antennas to triangulate
the location of the mobile target (MT). Our work is novel in
the sense that we consider an indoor WiFi system setup and
present simulation results that show a significant improvement
in resolution accuracy over conventional localization methods.
The proposed system avoids the use of an off-line training
phase, which is computationally intensive and requires a big
database. Therefore, our approach is more computationally
efficient and non-data intensive. The paper is organized as
follows: The research methodology is stated in Section II.
Section III introduces the entire proposed experimental setup
and simulation results are presented in Section IV. A
discussion of the work and ideas for future extensions appear
in Section V. Finally we present conclusions in Section VI.
In this section, we present our smart antennas system and
the triangulation process for target localization.
A. Smart Antennas System
Smart antennas offer many ways to improve wireless system
performance, such as providing enhanced coverage,
improving system capacity and reducing sensitivity to nonideal behaviour. Smart antennas use an array of low gain
antenna elements that are connected by a combining network
Consider an uniform linear array of M omni-directional
elements oriented along the x-axis, with inter-element spacing
of x . For a plane wave incident on the array from the
direction ( , ) , which denotes the azimuth angle and the

0098 3063/07/$20.00 2007 IEEE

C.-H. Lim et al.: A Real-Time Indoor WiFi Localization System UtilizingSmart Antennas

elevation angle of a plane wave incident on the array

respectively, the signal z(t) at the array output is [8]:
M 1

z (t ) = s s (t ) m* e

mx cos sin


m =0

where (.)* is the complex conjugate operation; s is the gain

constant; s(t) is the baseband complex envelope of the
modulated plane wave; m is the weight of the mth array

element and is the wavelength.

For the smart antenna used in our proposed indoor
localization system, the antenna has been calibrated prior to
the data collection process. Following this calibration process,
the beamforming weight m is subsequently obtained for


neighbour method, which determines the target position as the

access point with the greatest RSS.
As shown in Fig. 2, let the 2-D coordinates of the three
readers be defined as (Xr1, Yr1), (Xr2, Yr2) and (Xr3, Yr3)
respectively. Using the same coordinate axis, the equations of
the three lines are given as:
l1 : y = tan 1 x + X r1 tan 1 + Yr1

l 2 : y = tan 2 x X r 2 tan 2 + Yr 2
l3 : y = tan 3 x + X r 3 tan 3 + Yr 3


each scan angle. These weights are pre-programmed into the

client (introduced in Section III), so as to determine the
received signal strength (RSS) information from each scan
angle. The client (laptop PC) equipped with the smart antenna,
hereby referred to as the reader, is shown in Fig. 1. For our
system, three readers are utilized though only two are required
for the localization process.

Fig. 2. Triangulation method.

Given these three lines, the intercept points can then be

calculated from any two of them. Consider l1 and l2, by
subtracting (6) from (5), the x-intercept point of B is given as:


X r 2 tan 2 + X r1 tan 1 + Yr 2 +Yr1

tan 2 + tan 1

Then, the y-intercept point of B can be solved using either (2)

or (3). In this case, three intercept points A, B and C, which
are the peak points from the scan signal strength of a triangle,
can be calculated.
The lengths of the three legs of this triangle are labeled as
a, b, and c respectively. Therefore, the origin of the triangles
incenter (taken to be the targets estimated location) will be:

xincenter =

y incenter

Fig. 1. Reader: Smart antenna and client (laptop PC).

B. Triangulation
Triangulation uses multiple access points to find a target
based on the RSS at each access point and its accuracy can be
enhanced by using more access points within the localization
system. Triangulation is more accurate than the closest

(b x1 + c x2 + a x3 )

(b y1 + c y 2 + a y3 )


where (x1, y1) and (x2, y2) are the peaks A and B connected by
leg a; (x2, y2) and (x3, y3) are connected by leg b; (x3, y3) and
(x1, y1) are connected by leg c and


(x2 x1 )2 + ( y 2 y1 )2
( x 3 x 2 )2 + ( y 3 y 2 )2


(x1 x3 )2 + ( y1 y3 )2



IEEE Transactions on Consumer Electronics, Vol. 53, No. 2, MAY 2007




This section deals with the WiFi indoor localization system

setup, including the system setup and the data collection
process. The prototype consists of the following:
1) The smart antenna used is a 4-element uniform linear
array. The beamformer of the smart antenna is controlled by
the laptop PC through the parallel port. The received signal is
connected to the laptop PC Personal Computer Memory Card
International Association (PCMCIA) wireless network
interface card (WNIC).
2) The laptop PC is the client in the data processing
for the indoor localization system. It is interfaced with the
smart antenna through the parallel port for scanning. The
WNIC is an Orinco 802.11b WaveLan silver PCMCIA card
and has a connector for external range extension.
3) The host PC is the server within the data processing
network. It starts the data collection process of the readers,
consolidates the angle and RSS information and performs
triangulation to estimate the mobile targets estimated
4) The mobile target is a single Linksys 802.11b wireless
access point, which acts as the mobile transmitter. The data
capturing system consists of three readers and a target. The
data processing system is a Client/Server network, whereby all
PCs are connected within the same LAN. Fig. 3 shows the
structure of the WiFi indoor localization system.

Fig. 4. Layout of experimental setup.


To assess the performance of the proposed indoor
localization system, experiments were conducted in an
(8m 9m ) area covered by three readers, as shown in Fig. 4.
Seven locations were randomly picked up in the pre-defined
area and the RSS information was collected for estimating the
direction of arrival (DOA) for each reader. It must be stressed
that the locations were only used as a reference and not for
building a prior training database.
Error distance distribution


Fig. 3. Structure of WiFi indoor localization system.

At each reader, the antenna is physically deployed to a

permanent direction such that all the reference points can be
scanned. The layout of the three readers positions and 14
reference points, which is located on the fourth floor of a 6storey building situated at the School of Electrical and
Electronic Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, is
shown in Fig. 4.

Number of occurrences



Error (m)
Fig. 5. Error distance distribution.


C.-H. Lim et al.: A Real-Time Indoor WiFi Localization System UtilizingSmart Antennas

previous works. The smart antennas physical direction must

be calibrated so as to cover the whole test layout area.
We are investigating ways to make the implementation of
our proposed indoor localization system more robust. This
may be done by using prior information such as a signal
propagation model of the indoor environment.
Another possible extension is to utilize the redundant third
reader to improve the triangulation accuracy, since only two
readers are required for localization.

Cumulative Error Distance Distribution

Cumulative Probability






Error (m)


Fig. 6. Cumulative error distance distribution.

The experiments were carried out during office hours,
where there was a steady flow of human traffic throughout the
data collection process. For each location, the RSS
information was collected in 30 trials. The performance metric
used in our study is the error distance, which is the distance
between the original position of the mobile target and its
estimated location. This is shown in Figs. 5-6.
Fig. 5 shows that most of the errors occur at a distance less
than 2m. From Fig. 6, it can be seen that the proposed indoor
localization system can achieve a resolution of 1m with a
probability of 0.821. This is a much better performance than
both the RADAR method using signal propagation [2] and RF
finger-printing [4]. For comparison purposes, the accuracy
information is summarized in Table I for the 25th , 50th and
75th percentiles respectively.

RF fingerprinting
DOA using
smart antenna

25th %

50th %

75th %




It can be observed that our proposed methodology

compares favourably with those in the literature. In particular,
at the 75th percentile, it gives an improvement of 3.8m and
0.5m over the RADAR and finger-printing methods

In this paper, we illustrated the implementation of a realtime WiFi indoor localization system that utilizes smart
antennas. The localization is done by using the received signal
strength information for smart antennas. This approach avoids
the use of an off-line training phase, thus eliminating the
requirement for a training database. The simulation results
show a resolution accuracy that is better than other
conventional techniques



The location estimation depends on the orientation of the

MT and thus affects the DOA determination. The RSS
information is also affected by the flow of human traffic.
These effects are caused by the multipath, reflection and
attenuation due to the environment and have been reported in


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Series, 1999.

Chin-Heng Lim received the B. Eng. degree in Electrical

and Computer Engineer (First Class Honors) in 2003
from the National University of Singapore. From 20032006, he did his Ph.D. degree on a British Aeronautical
Engineering (BAE) Systems scholarship at The
University of Edinburgh (UoE), UK. The program was
carried out under the Strategic Alliance for Signal and
Information Processing between UoE, BAE Systems and Heriot-Watt
University. In 2006, he joined Temasek Laboratories@NTU, Singapore,
where he is currently a Research Scientist with the Array Signal Processing
group. His research interests include array and radar signal processing and
communications systems.

Yahong Wan received the B.Eng. degree in 2001 and

the M. Eng. degree in 2003, both in electrical
engineering, from Xian Jiaotong University, China.
From 2004-2006, she worked as a Research Associate
with the Information Systems Research Lab, School of
Electrical and Electronics Engineering, NTU, Singapore.
She is currently working as an engineer with Agilent
Technologies, Singapore. Her research interests include computer networking,
software engineering and WiFi applications.

IEEE Transactions on Consumer Electronics, Vol. 53, No. 2, MAY 2007


Boon-Poh Ng received the B.Eng. degree in electrical

engineering in 1987 from Nanyang Technological
Institute, Singapore, the D.I.C. and M.Sc. degrees in
communications and signal processing in 1991 from
Imperial College, University of London, London, U.K.,
and the Ph.D. degree in 1995 from Nanyang
Technological University (NTU), Singapore. He was a
lecturer at the Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering,
Singapore Polytechnic, from 1987 to 1996. He was a Senior Research Fellow
with the Center for Signal Processing, NTU, from 1996 to 1999. He is
currently an Associate Professor at the School of Electrical and Electronic
Engineering, NTU. His research interests include array synthesis, adaptive
array processing, spectral estimation and digital signal processing in general.

Chong-Meng Samson See (M92-M07) was born

in Singapore on June 13, 1968. He received the Diploma
in electronics and communications engineering (with
merit) in 1988 from Singapore Polytechnic and the M.Sc.
degree in digital communication systems in 1991 and the
Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering in 1999, both from
Loughborough, U.K. Since 1992, he has been with DSO National
Laboratories, Singapore, where he is now a Principal Member of Technical
Staff and is currently leading a team in the research and development of
advanced array signal processing systems and algorithms. His research
interests include the area of statistical and array signal processing,
communications, and bio-inspired systems. He has two issued patents on
direction finding.