Wi-Fi and active radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies are locked in a long battle to capture the burgeoning market in healthcare asset tracking, according to a new study by ABI Research. With less than five percent of North American healthcare facilities currently equipped with asset-management systems, this market, says industry analyst Sara Shah, “is up for grabs.”

Hospitals own lots of expensive equipment, from basic items such as wheelchairs to the most sophisticated medical machinery. At any given time, much of it is hard to find: either in use or in storage. The result: over-inventory and under-utilization of assets. Both Wi-Fi and active RFID systems allow hospitals to know where their equipment is, nearly in real time.

“Wi-Fi location system vendors are focusing on healthcare,” says Shah, “because most hospitals have Wi-Fi networks in place and many medical devices are Wi-Fi-equipped for patient monitoring. The value proposition is that they can keep their existing infrastructure and add new elements.” Wi-Fi location vendors such as Aeroscout, Ekahau and Pan-Go will also argue that their technology is standard-based and non-proprietary. On the other hand, RFID vendors such as RF Code and Radianse point to the wide application of RFID for asset tracking and their longevity in the industry.

Wi-Fi is a viable solution for hospitals but most hospitals will need to install extra access points because their networks were not designed for this purpose. “The integration process can also be more difficult than many seem to believe,” says Shah, “and requires extensive system configuration in order to determine accurate location.”

“Active RFID and Wi-Fi in the RTLS Market” analyzes the impact Wi-Fi vendors will have on the market and explains the differences between RFID and Wi-Fi systems, including both applications and vertical markets. It forms part of ABI Research’s RFID, M2M and Wi-Fi research services.