When I think of presence and location-based services (LBS), the first
thing that comes to mind is the original
Trek TV series. Youï¿½ve seen it: the crew of the Enterprise watches as
Captain Kirk battles some evil entity on the bridge of an approaching
vessel. What kind of technology enables the Enterprise, which is orbiting
the planet or facing off with an enemy vessel, to show this picture on the
massive flat-panel viewing screen on the bridge? I donï¿½t know, and I never
tried to figure it out. All I know is that it was fun to watch and that this
presence made space exploration much easier, since you could easily keep
your eye on the bad guy even when he was on the planet below.
This mysterious technology also made it possible for the Enterprise crew
to beam down supplies or phasers to crew members on the planet. All they
needed were the coordinates, which the computers were able to get. This is a
real location-based service: ï¿½Iï¿½m starving -- please beam me a pizza!ï¿½ I
recall that a communicator was the device that enabled the transporter to
get a location fix on a person to beam them up, but Captain Kirk and his
crew always seemed to be able to do this without the device. Was the
communicator an early cell phone with the enhanced features of the
The point of all this is that the ideas of presence and LBS have been around
for a long time. (Since Star Trek originally aired in 1966, itï¿½s close to 40
years.) Once again, science fiction has become reality. I do not recall an
Internet or IP being mentioned in the TV series, but some fan may correct me
on this. Nevertheless, SS7 has been actually enabling presence and
location-based services since the mid-1990s. The wireless network has been
able to track your location and to know if you are ï¿½onï¿½ the network.
Where Is Presence Today?
While the instant messaging (IM) many teens use is still the prevalent
application for presence on computers, we are on the cusp of broad use of IM
in the business world. Getting a quick response to a simple question,
knowing if co-workers are at their desks so you can set up a quick meeting,
having your kids drop you a note to let you know they are at a friendï¿½s
house -- these are all becoming common applications in todayï¿½s enterprise
environment. IM is also being connected to mobile phones, with Yahoo!
Messenger now allowing messages to be sent between computers and mobile
phones. Still missing is the critical information of knowing whether a
friend has his or her mobile phone turned on, but this can be added in the
future. In short, convergence is happening.
Even more interesting is that what started as a consumer market phenomenon
has taken hold in the business world. This is the opposite of the way e-mail
caught on. The other issue with presence is that it does not generate any
revenue as a computer-to-computer communication channel.
Unfortunately, the legal system has stepped in to determine whether instant
messages need to be saved like e-mail messages. This is disheartening, since
IM messages are more like voice conversations than e-mail. Will every phone
conversation need to be recorded and saved as well? If so, this may
adversely impact the adoption by the enterprise community.
Adding Location-Based Services
LBS applications generally involve finding a person, place, or thing
relative to the userï¿½s current location. These applications have been around
for a while, but have not yet penetrated the mass market segment except
possibly for fleet management in delivery service companies and technician
On a recent business to the UK, I experienced the value of LBS. A colleague
picked me up at Gatwick Airport. As soon as we left the airport, we got the
latest traffic report using a hands-free mobile phone. The 90-minute drive,
which I take about three or four times a year, can stretch into more than
two hours when traffic is heavy. We were glad to hear that on this occasion,
the roadway was clear. While Europe has been using these services for years,
the U.S. still lags the rest of the world.
I have also read about a new taxi service that will dispatch to the location
of your mobile phone. The customer just needs to send an SMS message to the
taxi company. This is a great example of how presence can combine with LBS
into a great business model. The taxi company can even text you back to tell
you how long your wait will be.
E911 rollout in the U.S. should help enable carriers to provide better LBS
coverage. While this rollout has its challenges, wireless carriers will be
better positioned with an accurate LBS infrastructure and the incentive to
make money with this platform.
One major area holding back LBS is security and privacy. This will remain a
top issue for some time. Will people pay to have the network give them
information on where they are? Or will they prefer to call a service that
can provide information to them based upon a location they tell the service?
The jury is still out.
Boldly Into The Future
Presence will continue to grow. It is easy to envision a world where you can
have a central list that will automatically contact a person, on whichever
device they choose, and let you know if they are available. This will be
true in the both the consumer and business worlds. However, the privacy
issue will still linger.
Most importantly, businesses will need to keep an eye on presence and LBS.
If these applications take off in a meaningful way, they will become another
cost of doing business. Any restaurant, grocery store, or gas station will
want to be part of a successful LBS application. It will be like getting
your name in the yellow pages -- a must for success.
LBS will start to thrive. Already General Motors is putting it into most of
its cars. As a traveling business person, I want to find the closest Wi-Fi
hotspot. I have also read about find-your-friend services. While I am
driving someplace unfamiliar, I want to know where to find the next decent
restaurant. Sometimes I like to be surprised. But when traveling with
children, I like the surprises kept to a minimum.
The infrastructure is in place: the Internet, SS7, SIMPLE, 2.5G, 3G, GIS,
E911, and so on. Everything is in place for LBS to start taking off now.
Presence is here and will continue to evolve as more devices are added to
the mix. So lock in the customer, get a fix on the technology, and beam us
to the next generation of applications.
Jim Machi is director, Product Management for the Network Processing
Division of the Intel Communications Group.
Intel, the worldï¿½s largest chipmaker, is also a leading manufacturer of
computer, networking, and communications products.
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