Feature Story

A New Twist on Location-Based Services: LBS Can Be Used to Bill, Locate, Manage, Monitor and More

By Paula Bernier

These days the term location-based services frequently brings to mind new applications that push promotional offers or other content to cellular subscribers as they move into a particular geographical area. But there’s a whole lot more to LBS than meets the eye. LBS also can be used to help cellular service providers with network management, policy enforcement and billing, and to enable new, productivity-enhancing capabilities within the enterprise.

Akil Chomoko, product marketing manager at Volubill, which provides real-time monitoring, control and charging software to communication providers around the world, says charging policy and DPI can be used in LBS applications for cell-based congestion management, as just one example.

“If you have sold a service to a customer [that] is based on certain capacity or bandwidth, and as a customer moves around he goes into one cell that is not congested and then goes on to another cell that is congested, you may want to manage that service in a special way,” says Chomoko.

For example, a cellular service provider might opt to alert that customer that a particular cell might not be delivering optimal service; or offer money back for less than optimal bandwidth; or possibly throttle down the bandwidth of other users on the congested cell to ensure the customer who’s subscribed to a higher-level service gets an optimal experience.

Volubill’s Chomoko adds that location-based information also can leveraged to detect when and where customers are roaming to ensure those customers are billed accurately and can be notified if they’ve hit their usage limits.

“Some service providers want to charge customers differently on their home cell than when they move away from home,” he adds.

Of course, knowing where the customer is located also can allow cellular service providers and third-party software running over wireless networks to deliver a wide variety of advertising, entertainment, marketing, navigation, public safety and other applications.

While some of the actual and potential applications seem pretty obvious, others are rather offbeat. For example, Volubill’s Chomoko says in India it’s working with a service provider to support a boy-meets-girl SMS service, which alerts users when they’re in the same vicinity, thereby “heightening the excitement.”

“The idea of location, it’s so uniquely wireless,” says Tim Lorello, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at TeleCommuncations Systems Inc., a leading messaging company that offers LBS solutions to a variety of carriers including Leap, MetroPCS, Sprint (News - Alert), US Cellular and Verizon.

TCS made its mark in LBS years ago when it was a pioneer in the 911 arena. Today TCS – which last year added to its assets by acquiring location-based businesses LocationLogic (an Autodesk (News - Alert) spinoff) and Networks in Motion Inc. – delivers LBS-related solutions on a number of fronts, says Lorello. That includes middleware for billing and privacy control; a coarse location engine that interacts with the switch to get SS7 information to find the cell site sector location of the caller; as well as applications like 911, navigation, asset location and location (of friends, family, employees, etc.).

Not only can LBS help network operators and their customers find people and deliver and/or receive content, it also can be used to do things like control battery usage on wireless endpoints, says Lorello. He explains that a network can use LBS to help a handset know which satellite or cell site to look for to enable a quicker connection and lessen the drain on the phone’s battery.

As mentioned previously, advertising and marketing are typically two of the first applications mentioned when LBS is discussed. But rather than just allowing a single store or retailer to push a coupon or other promotion to a customer, says Lorello, LBS could be paired with a cellular short code (says, STARB, for example) to enable wireless subscribers to find the closest Starbucks. Or, he continues, a short code like COFFEE could direct cellular customers to various coffee houses in the area and show them what deals are available at each.

LBS also increasing is being put to use within corporations, and other businesses and organizations.

Chris Kozup (News - Alert), senior manager of Cisco mobility solutions, says there are two basic case uses for Cisco LBS technology for business. One falls into the third-party application bucket and includes things like asset tracking. The asset can be anything from a car at a dealership or repair shop to a medical device at a hospital. (Think RFID on steroids, as Kozup says this is better than RFID because it has longer reach.) The other has to do with what Kozup calls condition monitoring. That means the tag (News - Alert) itself has sensing capabilities that can tap the Wi-Fi network to deliver information – such as temperature change, motion, pressure or what have you – to another location. (It’s kind of a new take on telemetry.)

LBS can be used to help cellular service providers with network management, policy enforcement and billing, and to enable new, productivity-enhancing capabilities within the enterprise.

Mercedes Benz is employing Cisco (News - Alert)’s LBS capabilities for asset tracking.

Because Mercedes has a showroom floor and extensive car display area, it can be difficult to locate quickly a vehicle with the precise features a given customer wants. But by tagging cars and using LBS, the Mercedes’ sales reps can enter the parameters a customer requests, and the system locates the vehicles with those features.

A company called Arnold Clark uses the same Cisco LBS/Wi-Fi technology for a car servicing application, Kozup says.

While there are a lot of great examples for how various verticals or applications can use LBS technology, James Winterbottom, GeoLENs product manager at Andrew Solutions, which sells a location server for the enterprise environment, says standards are starting to emerge to enable new economies of scale on this front.

“Enterprise location applications are moving away from the traditional vertical solutions that encompass location and emergency calling as a single entity,” he says. “They are moving toward solutions that provide a separate location service that can be used by a range of enterprise applications including emergency calling, presence and asset tracking.”

In the last six to 12 months, he told INTERNET TELEPHONY in April, the IETF has developed protocols related to location servers. HTTP-enabled location delivery – or HELD – is waiting to be assigned a number at IETF, he said, adding Andrew is a major backer of the effort.

HELD means people don’t have to change out lots of infrastructure to enable LBS services because HELD runs at the IP layer and works really well, he says, adding that the next major release of Firefox will include a HELD client. IT