June 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 6
Location-Based Services Finally Arrive
By: Richard "Zippy" Grigonis
Location-Based Services (LBS), capable of determining and using a user’s physical location to provide an enhanced service or experience, have been “just around the corner” for the past eight years. Now they’re here. Early systems relied on inaccurate cell tower navigation. Calling upon GPS satellites improved things a bit, but these types of systems may have trouble if the user is in an urban environment or indoors. The latest systems use either cell towers, GPS, a database of WiFi (News - Alert) locations or a combination of two or more of these.
For example, TruePosition, Inc., a leading provider of wireless location technologies and solutions and a subsidiary of Liberty Media Corporation, recently announced the TruePosition (News - Alert)® Hybrid Location Solution™, a mobile positioning method that provides better accuracy and consistency for consumer services such as local search and location-based advertising. It incorporates a combination of location technologies such as Cell ID (CID), Enhanced Cell ID (ECID), Angle of Arrival (AOA), Uplink Time Difference of Arrival (U-TDOA), and Assisted GPS (A-GPS) to ensure optimum accuracy, latency, and yield across every type of environment and condition — urban, suburban, rural, indoors, in-vehicle, in-motion and stationary. It has the accuracy, latency, and yield required for safety and security services such as family monitoring, personal medical alerts, and emergency number services including E-911 (in the US) or E-112 (in the European Union).
SiRF Technology (News - Alert) has also evolved beyond ordinary global positioning systems technology to to “Portable Location Awareness”, the ability to know where you and your loved ones are, to navigate to any destination, and to always find your way home again; built right into the handhelds, portable PCs, cell phones, music, video players, and car navigation systems you use every day while on the move.
Kanwar Chadha, Co-founder of SiRF Technology, says, “We’re the leading supplier of location technology into the mass-market or consumer space. Most of our technology is based on GPS positioning. We sell GPS chipsets, software, client-server architectures for wireless operators and network operators, and things like that. Today we have probably the largest GPS chipset market share in the world. We focus on four main mobile platforms: First, automobiles, where people use it for navigation and telematics. Second, mobile phones and wireless handheld devices. Third, we provide a complete end-to-end solution where the client software goes into the handsets and we provide servers and things like that for the network. We essentially provide what we call a location-enabling platform for LBS applications, which links up to the servers and the client side. The third market is mobile computing, which includes notebook computers, UMPCs and mobile Internet devices – basically it’s an Intel and Microsoft world. We are developing future technologies which combine things such as WiMAX (News - Alert) and WiFi connectivity with location and short-range technologies such as BlueTooth. Our fourth market is consumer electronics, which is an emerging market. Traditionally people have used GPS for handheld recreational type of applications, but we are looking at broader applications such as the integration of location and GPS into cameras, portable gaming machines, portable entertainment devices, and things like that.”
“Today, automobiles are our largest market,” says Chadha. “But wireless is our highest growth market. It exploded over the past year, especially with customers such as RIM and some in Asia. Mobile computing right now is a relatively small market as is consumer electronics. But we do see these taking off starting late in 2008 and early 2009 with some new applications and content.”
“We have three levels of product,” says Chadha. “We have multiple chipsets and client software which runs in the location-aware devices, be they for regular wireless or for automobiles. Our second layer is the server architecture, which typically resides either in the operator network or else in the application service provider network which provides assistance to the client to improve performance of location calculations in the devices. The third level is the LBS-enabling platform which we launched in 2007, which enables content and app providers to write and validate their applications using this set of tools, which makes it very easy for them to port from one environment to another, be that a different operating system environment or a different underlying mobile phone hardware environment. We’re working with more than 100 application content providers who have joined what’s called the SiRF Location Ecosystem Platform.”
“There was a lot of hype in the LBS space around the year 2000,” says Chadha. “Everybody was looking at billions of dollars of opportunity. The problem at the time was that there was no infrastructure in place to enable both content and applications. There weren’t enough mobile phones with location capabilities, networks and components were not in place to support LBS platforms, and the business models weren’t clear. The E911 mandate that location had to be in every handset helped the hype, but the operators focused on that particular requirement and they didn’t work on building a broader LBS ecosystem, with a few exceptions, such as NexTel, which actually built a location-enabling platform. We supply our technology into all of the NexTel phones.”
“In the last two years, however, much has changed,” says Chadha. “In the U.S., Verizon, Sprint (News - Alert) and Cingular / AT&T have now started deploying a broad range of LBS applications. Many more location-enabled platforms have become available from RIM, Motorola (News - Alert), Nokia, and OEM handset makers such HDC, Asus, and others out of Asia. So we’re seeing a broad range of handsets becoming available and even some of the tier 1 handset people are entering the market. We’re also starting to see the operators become more serious about in the U.S., where four of the five major ones are now deploying location technology. In Europe we’re starting to see Orange, Vodafone (News - Alert) in Germany and Telefonica in the U.K. get more serious about LBS.”
Going Beyond LBS with Machine-Based Communications
By Alex Brisbourne
With a slight ‘bang’, you feel your car pull sharply to the left, as you immediately realize that you have a flat tire. Rare though this may be, it happens to thousands of drivers every day – from coast to coast. Being alone, finding those tools and changing a wheel is a daunting challenge, and for some may not even be possible. What you need is instant help from a reputable repair truck.
Today, millions of motorists enjoy the security of knowing that, if this happens to them, a quick push of the blue button will summon help, and that this help will get there quickly and efficiently, thanks to the integration of location with assistance services with GM’s OnStar service. Locating your car to within a few yards through the help of GPS satellite service, and real-time communication on demand over the cellular network makes this possible at a price anyone can realistically afford.
OnStar supports 5 million users today. Yet it represents just one of many examples of applications that, today and into the future, are quietly improving our lives through the convergence of a number of technologies.
The roots of Location-Based Services (LBS) lie in the de-militarization of the U.S. government array of satellites in the mid 1980s. However, it was 15 years later before applications started to appear that leveraged this technology for ‘the common good’ as was decreed by President Reagan at the time. For a number of reasons, the accuracy of early GPS systems was wide of the mark, often being accurate to only a few kilometres. However, further declassification in the late 1990s allowed the development today’s systems with accuracy to within 20 -50 meters under normal use.
However, being able to confirm your location through GPS satellite links is only a part of the solution. Unless this information can be delivered, on-demand, ubiquitously and cost-effectively, to some kind of application (or a call center) there is no solution. The second part for LBS success has been the worldwide evolution of the cellular network to the point that today, all-digital GSM and CDMA networks span the globe, delivering SMS and IP services over more than 90 percent of the world’s populated areas. Moreover, machines are now constantly chattering away over cellular networks to other machines, sharing useful information that is increasing our security, improving our safety and making our businesses more efficient.
The integration of cellular networks and GPS satellite services has driven a final part of the solution into the forefront. One obvious drawback of satellite services is that, if you can’t ‘see’ them, you can’t get your location. So, inside buildings, or in densely developed areas, satellite dependent services have real limitations. But a cellular network device is always connected to more than one cell tower – and its location is known. Enter cell location technology as an added ingredient, a technology widely used in E911 services today but generally unavailable to third party services. Now, the trivector of GPS, ubiquitous IP cellular and the integration of cell location is enabling powerful, friendly and life-enhancing applications where location is paramount to the value of the service.
We’ve already briefly discussed OnStar at the start of this article: peoples’ lives are being saved today through OnStar as a result of the accurate dispatch of emergency services after an accident or medical emergency. But that is only the beginning. For several years in Europe, advanced navigation services are routinely available in both OEM and aftermarket applications that combine real-time traffic data, up-to-the-minute maps and customer navigation route needs into simple, voice-driven, turn-by-turn directional services without needing to install expensive (and potentially distracting) pictorial maps. A simple request for a destination to a call center over a cellular connection – often by a voice call – results in a route ‘token’ being downloaded to the vehicle. Based upon the precise location of the vehicle, turn-by-turn directions are spoken to the driver. Compared to on-board navigation systems, this kind of approach eliminates unnecessary driver distraction, is cheaper to buy, and is always up-to-date, with latest roads, road layout changes or traffic holdups immediately available to the route plan software.
Machine-based communications are now all around us, with more new applications appearing every day. There is much talk that ‘Personal Navigation Devices’ (PND) are the next big wave for consumer adoption – like email and Instant Messaging were over the past few years. This is hardly innovation; simply repackaging proven services onto consumer handsets. But, integration of location capabilities is now widespread in applications as diverse as emergency response, taxi and limousine services, and improving call rates for repair and maintenance crews by being able to know, precisely, who is available, and where, to respond to customer calls. The payback is fast: one more job every week by a plumber or electrical contractor more than pays for these service enhancements.
Smarter applications are appearing in areas such as advertising. Many buses and taxicabs have traditionally carried advertising banners. However, a major level of concern for advertisers is that these cabs may not even be able to influence customers’ buying habits. Enter smart billboards — in these applications, advertising messages are dynamically adjusted to reflect the location of a vehicle. In a simple example, a fast food outlet may change the address and phone number in the advertisement on the cab top to show the nearest location dynamically based on the cab’s location. To the customer, the value is obvious, to the advertiser, the payback is real and to the cab company (and its advertiser) they are able to charge premium rates as they assure relevance of their billboards.
It’s not all about consumers however. Many of the fastest growth areas in machine communications, and especially those leveraging location awareness, are in areas such as security and commercial asset control. Sheriffs’ departments across the nation are increasingly adopting tracking devices, using ‘ankle bracelets’ and other approaches, to keep track of low and medium risk offenders. Parole organizations recognize that helping offenders to re-integrate into society is critically important – but only if our society is comfortable with the process. For example, certain offenders may have restraint orders under which they must live: perhaps not visiting certain neighbourhoods, or being close to children or spouses. With location-awareness built into the tracking devices they are wearing, these individuals can be ‘geofenced’ – in effect controlled within an electronic pen so that if they break the boundary (for example venture within a mile of a school), then the controlling agency is immediately notified.
If these sound too much like Big Brother at work, think of more benign but perhaps equally important applications of the same base technology. If we have elderly parents, perhaps suffering from memory lapse, or Alzheimer’s disease, what would we pay to know that, should they get lost, we can locate them quickly and ensure no harm befalls them? It’s technology being put to positive use in our community today.
Controlling and tracing assets, from automobiles to industrial equipment, is lowering insurance costs for high value items that, in the past, may be lost forever. But the insurance industry in Europe has been pioneering innovative thinking to solve a different type of problem: youth drivers and their associated high insurance premiums. Conventional wisdom was that young drivers – especially male – were poor risks. As premiums rose, so too did the restrictions on these young people to pursue career-enhancing mobility, such as in summer employment or internships due to the high cost of providing them access to cars to get to their work. One insurer developed a ‘Pay-for-Use’ insurance program, entirely based upon routes, driving conditions, time of day and a number of other variables. By having real-time tracking in place on designated vehicles, they were able to measure driving behaviour such as speed, aggression and roads travelled and adjust the rate charged per mile accordingly. These innovations may be coming to an insurer near you in the not-so-distant future!
In other areas, cellular machine communications linked with location capabilities are seeing innovative solutions to supply chain and logistics services. Transporting food materials is a tricky business, especially when needing to control such critical areas as temperature change. The shelf life of many goods, from hamburgers and chicken to fresh produce, depends significantly on the variances that these goods encounter during transit. Many of today’s foodservices companies are starting to actively monitor refrigeration units – for maintenance and performance – temperature gradients during transit, and even if doors have been opened or closed in locations off route to ensure that produce has not been tampered with. All of this leads to a better quality product, and with lower wastage, arriving on store shelves.
These industrial applications for cellular and location are taking off rapidly. They complement (and in some cases, eclipse) the push for consumer-centric services that have been much talked about, but have only limited success to date, like IM-based friendship groups, or mobile marketing pushed content. The level of innovation is now high, and the time of location and cellular has now arrived!
Alex Brisbourne is President and Chief Operating Officer at KORE Telematics (www.coretelematics.com), North America’s largest independent provider of digital wireless services for the machine-to-machine (M2M), telematics and telemetry markets. He has more than 20 years of experience in the networking and telecom industry, in Europe, North America and Asia and most recently, as a General Partner in Aegis Management, an early stage technology incubator.
Making the Connection
With platforms and applications designed to meet the needs of both consumers and enterprise customers, WaveMarket Inc. has pioneered the delivery of location-based solutions to mobile handset users, their peers, groups or the world. One interesting appilication they’ve developed that gives parents peace of mind is the Family Finder (Sprint’s “Family Locator”), that gives mobile subscribers accurate information regarding the location of family members via the web or mobile phone, and alerts them if children or elderly loved ones leave a pre-specified “safe-region”. Family Finder’s easy-to-use interactive maps can be accessed from both a desktop and mobile devices. WaveMarket also offers asset tracking services that help enterprises improve efficiency and productivity.
WaveMarket has a partnership with Aepona, whose products and solutions provide the important connection between the Internet / IT domain and the telecoms domain, allowing telcos to offer many new services that combine web and telco capabilities to create compelling new composite applications or “mash-ups”. WaveMarket uses the Aepona platform to deliver location-based services to mobile carriers, who in turn offer them to their subscribers.
Michael Crossey, Aepona’s VP of Marketing, says, “We’re a provider of the kind of Web Services technology that makes it easier for companies such as WaveMarket to connect into the telco networks. We abstract the telco capabilities, location being one of them, but also messaging — both multimedia messaging and text messaging. We cover call control, so we can do conference and person-to-person calling, application initiated calling. We also cover things such as presence and profiles and so forth — a whole range of telecom capabilities that we expose and present as Web Services which means that applications developers such as WaveMarket can simplify the process of connecting into these telco functions. We not only simplify it but make it repeatable across networks. Currently they’re in the Sprint network, but with our technology they can enter our European customer base of providers and not have the same integration headaches as they would without Aepona’s technology.”
“We don’t specifically focus on location-based services,” says Crossey, “but certainly LBS is one of the application areas we think is very exciting. Our technology replicates the web model in the telecoms domain, especially Web 2.0 where you have services that are made available by web providers and other players can use those services as mash-ups in their applications. A very simple example of this is Google (News - Alert) Maps, which can be used by apps developers to create a composite customer experience. So we’re taking that model and replicating it within the telco domain so that telco capabilities can be represented as a Web Service in exactly the same way as Google Maps can be represented as a Web Service.”
Hearing a Different Drummer
The satellite-based GPS system provides the raw material for many LBS systems. One interesting exception is the WiFi Positioning System (WPS) from Skyhook Wireless (News - Alert), said to be the first location platform to use the native 802.11 radio already on many mobile devices, particularly those that don’t have GPS. (If they do, WPS’ indoor availability and 10-20 meter accuracy in urban areas complements GPS’ known limitations.)
To pinpoint location, WPS uses a huge reference network comprised of the known locations of tens of millions of access points. To develop this database, Skyhook has deployed drivers to survey every single street, highway, and alley in tens of thousands of cities and towns worldwide, scanning for WiFi access points and plotting their precise geographic locations.
Skyhook currently provides coverage to 70 percent of the U.S., Canadian, and Australian populations. The top 50 metropolitan areas of Europe are covered along 70 percent of the population in Germany, France, and the UK. Skyhook is also expanding its Asian coverage.
iPhone (News - Alert) and the WiFi-enabled iPod Touch can find their location and, using mapping daga from Google, receive instant directions. This is a software update that is free for the iPhone and $20 for current Touch owners. Skyhook also powers the location capabilities of the Reigncom iRiver portable media player and AOL (News - Alert) Instant Messaging Service, among others.
Ted Morgan, CEO of Skyhook Wireless, says, “People have talked about location-based services for eight or nine years now, and until recently it hasn’t lived up to the hype. That’s because the pieces weren’t in place. People talked about potential uses, services and apps, but there wasn’t the proper infrastructure in place to provide any of it. So there’s no surprise that it all seemed a flop around 2001, since there were no handsets that could deliver location data, and there’s no surprise that consumers didn’t adopt it. Now, however, the infrastructure is starting to come together across a number of device categories, and certainly on the handset side, there’s a large number of devices that are location-enabled using GPS, and if you talk to every major handset maker, they’re all attempting to infuse location abilities into all of their device suites. That’s because they’re seeing a lot of really good trends coming out of the navigation market. What really kickstarted everything was the big success of the Garmin and TomTom (News - Alert) personal navigation devices for your car. For example, Verizon rolled out the VZ Navigator service that turns your cell phone into a turn-by-turn driving navigation device, and it already has millions of users.”
“As the device makers get into this field, they’re trying to figure out what they need in order to have a reliable service,” says Morgan. “So the first thing they did was to look to GPS, because the U.S. government runs it, it supposedly works everywhere and you just have to put a chip in your device. But they’ve discovered that while GPS is a whole lot better than technologies based on cell towers, it still isn’t designed for finding consumer locations – it doesn’t work indoors, doesn’t work around buildings and it takes a really long time to get your first location. All of these things make it poorly suited for consumer applications. As people are putting these pieces in place and they see the market demand is there, they’re trying to figure out how they’re going to put together the underlying location system that can support all of that. That’s where we come in. Skyhook has developed a global positioning system using WiFi instead of satellites or cell towers. We’ve leveraged the sheer growth and usage of WiFi.”
Yes, location-based services are here and soon we’ll all be wondering how we ever got along without them. IT
The following companies were mentioned in this article:
SiRF Technology (www.sirf.com)
Skyhook Wireless (www.skyhookwireless.com)
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