How Does a Wi-Fi Positioning System Work?

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Nowadays, hardly anybody connects to a traditional LAN (Local Area Network) for internet access. Usually, internet routers are free from cables. Connecting to a wireless network is preferred.

The term Wi-Fi is thought to be short for wireless fidelity. However, a firm only created the term to put a user-friendly name to the wireless industry, and it stuck.  

Wi-Fi connects mobile phones and computers to the internet through radio signals sent from a router. The device translates the signal received into data that the user can see. 

The speed of data exchange from the internet down to the user depends on reliable network providers. As a result, network providers have also responded and become more competitive in their offers of speedy wireless connections.  

What is WPS?

WPS (Wi-Fi Positioning System) is a geolocation system that uses techniques to discover the location of devices connected to it. It is beneficial, especially where the Global Positioning System (GPS) is inadequate due to varied causes, including signal blockages and multipath. 

WPS is practically handy in urban areas where many wireless networks transmit from exact locations. It uses a large number of wireless access points (WAPs) to its advantage.

WPS is essential in tracking and locating devices and people. It remarkably helps enable mobile applications to improve user’s quality of life. 

How Does WPS Work?

WPS uses existing W-Fi access points (APs) or sensors to detect and identify the location of devices connected to Wi-Fi. 

It is used to identify hotspots or to locate signals from devices connected to a wireless network.

Wi-Fi transmitters send packets to APs in a central facility where the reported time and signal strength are calculated to pinpoint the user’s location.

WPS does not work when it is out of range from a Wi-Fi signal or when there are no Wi-Fi networks in the area.

Wi-Fi-based positioning systems use different methods to locate the positions of the devices detected. Most common is the use of a received signal strength indicator (RRSI).

The Different Positioning Methods

RSSI Fingerprinting 

RSSI (received signal strength indicator) fingerprinting uses a database of recorded information on the location, signal strengths, and coordinates. 

A fingerprinting database is likewise created and repeatedly calibrated. Just like determining a user’s or a device’s location based on signal strength and triangulation, fingerprinting is not highly accurate. 

RSSI fingerprinting is low-cost, but continuous calibration and updating are necessary.

RSSI Multilateration 

Multiple access points and sensors detect and transmit devices and the signal strength. 

The harvested data will be sent to a central indoor positioning system or the real-time location system. These data are analyzed through the use of multilateral algorithms. 

The analysis result will give the location of the transmitting device. 

ToF (Time of Flight) 

ToF is a highly accurate positioning method used by precision technologies such as the UWB (ultra-wideband) system. It measures the distance between devices by calculating the signal travel time between devices. 

ToF can determine the precise location by using multiple access points and sensors surrounding the device. The signal of the device will be received by the access points where it will be time-stamped. 

This data will be sent to the central indoor positioning and real-time location system. The local engine will analyze data and correctly tag the coordinates. 

This method is complex and may not be cost-effective, but it can deliver higher accuracy.

AoA (Angle of Arrival)

AoA is an advanced method that can deliver more accurate and precise positioning results. It is based on measuring the angular directions from a locator at a known location.


GPS uses a triangulation of satellites. When all satellites from which a device receives the signals are in the same direction, there will be poor satellite geometry and inaccurate positioning results.  

When a radio signal bounces off a building or mountain steeple, it takes a long time for GPS to intercept this. When this happens, it will result in the GPS receiver not pinpointing the satellite location.

WPS is more accurate than GPS in terms of localization. It is more effective where GPS is not. For example, WPS is more likely to give an acceptable positioning accuracy than GPS in indoor tracking.

WPS uses to its advantage the massive number of access points as well as internet users. 

People use the internet for many reasons like research, online jobs, medical technology, entertainment. Technological innovations have even devised Wi-Fi-based applications for the blind.   

WPS may have the upper hand over GPS in indoor tracking. The latter is still the golden standard and indispensable for the same importance as before. 

Typical uses of GPS include:

  • Weather forecasting
  • Prevention of car theft
  • Rescue of survivors in a calamity
  • Military operations

Military operations heavily depend on GPS for navigation and tracking aspects. The US Military even mentioned that interruptions to GPS for any time put the American nation’s security at risk. 


WPS makes tracking the locations of devices and people easy, but it also has its disadvantages. The intrusion of privacy is one issue that arises due to Wi-Fi-based tracking. 

Part of a cellular phone’s carrier service is the capacity to track user locations anonymously. Any person who uses the internet through a mobile device can be tracked nowadays. 

To prevent privacy intrusion, mobile device users can turn off the location services in their devices, however.

WPS can track not only the mobile devices you use but also your wireless network. Hence, if you do not want your wireless network to be used in this manner, you always have the choice of opting out. 

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