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Fighting Coronavirus with WiFi

18 March, 2020 | Nader Fathi

The 2019–20 coronavirus outbreak is an ongoing global outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that has been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization. It is caused by the SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) initially identified as Novel Coronavirus that was first identified in WuhanHubei, China in December 2019. J.P. Morgan Research reported that this pandemic has weighed on global financial markets and is expected to heavily impact business and travel.  This virus is non-discriminatory.  It affects the financial and psychological wellbeing of all people and companies.

 

Kiana WiFi location analytics software, in connection with the unique identifier of a person’s mobile device, can be leveraged in the location tracking of people infected with Coronavirus, and the identification of others who have come into close proximity. WiFi is already installed and in daily use in many locations.  Kiana WiFi analytics can then be used to identify devices that have been in contact with a “device of interest”, and the length of time of that contact. This analysis allows for a rapid response to isolate infected individuals and groups/ areas.  In enterprise and campus environments, where individuals are known, immediate outreach is possible.  In city and public spaces, privacy prevents “knowing” individuals, but the information can assist communities in managing social distancing rules, identifying clusters of individuals and facilitating quick cleanup of areas where groups were assembled.

What is Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a family of hundreds of viruses that can cause fever and respiratory problems. Since emerging in China in December 2019, this new Coronavirus has caused a global health emergency, sickening almost 125,000 people worldwide.  As of March 11, 2020, over 1,100 cases had been reported in the US.

How does it Spread?

Researchers are still trying to understand the spread of this virus. It’s likely to be transmitted in droplets from coughing or sneezing, with a14-day incubation period. Growing numbers of cases of Community Spread illness in California and Washington suggest that the virus may be circulating more widely than case numbers might indicate.

As an outbreak spreads, public health officials track cases based on where they originated. Cases can enter a location via travel, or when a person has come from an area known to have the disease and brought it to a new place.  Or the virus can be community spread, meaning a person who got it from an outbreak area has passed it to someone else in their community.

Can Technology Help us Pin-Point At-Risk Individuals and Populations?

WiFi Can Help.  Today we all own and carry WiFi-based systems, such as mobile phones, tablets, smartwatches, and more.

Using the signal from such a device is ideal for the understanding of dwell times (time spent in the same position) and the location of people’s devices visiting an area. Each device has a unique address (MAC) and although not identifiable to a person, it is itself identifiable. Therefore, dwell time and repeat visits to a location can be calculated. As the MAC address is unique the same address can be tracked from sensor to sensor, giving a pathway within a building. The same address can be tracked from location to location to identify area transition.

Who owns Smart Phones? – Source: Nielsen Mobile Insights

Furthermore, the location of a device can be calculated using various methods such as using RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator) or triangulation.

 

Example of locating a device (smartphone B) using three WiFi access points (A, C & D)

You Don’t Need to Install Anything New – Leverage existing infrastructure

WiFi is already installed and in daily use in corporate facilities, universities, cruise ships, and hospitals.  Leveraging WiFi analytics can then be used to identify devices that have been in contact with the “device of interest” and for how long (dwell time). This information can then be used to identify persons of interest (i.e., infected person), the people they contacted and the length in time of contact. This allows people infected to send alerts to others who may have been exposed to the same virus due to proximity and may have spread the virus.  Health care providers can use this information to accelerate the response rate to avoid the spread of the virus. The benefit of WiFi is that it is ubiquitous and unlike beacons, no App download is needed on the user’s smartphone.

 

Example Area Transition – Source: Kiana Analytics, Inc. 

Caveat on use of WiFi analytics

This solution has its limitations.  The infected person may not have a smartphone or the WiFi may be turned off (in Airplane mode).  Data may not be available in areas not covered by WiFi or not collected.  In some regions due to data protection and privacy concerns, such data collection may not be permitted.  Although not perfect, WiFi analytics offers a seamless solution to identify and eventually prevent community spread of Coronavirus which is impacting all of us worldwide.

Still, this is a time when the global community is working together through social distancing and other collaborative and scientific digital efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19. Likely your employees and communities would be willing and eager to use a collaborative WiFi analytics platform such as Kiana to do their part and help keep their businesses running smoothly and community healthy.

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