A Review of Location Based Services

By Joe Francica


The impetus for this editorial was my attendance at the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) conference this year in Atlanta, and because it was also time to update our readers on location-based services and technology platforms.

The CTIA conference is all about mobility.Mobile phones and wireless technology are certainly at the center, but also mobile entertainment, mobile data, mobile content, mobile enterprise applications, and yes, mobile location-based services.In the newly rejuvenated world of cellular telecommunications, everything is wireless and bandwidth is nearly infinite, or at least that is the expectation.What we envision and hope to see with the various location platforms and numerous consumer services (streaming media, concierge services, traffic and weather reports, "family-finder" applications) is already in place in Korea, Japan and other Asian markets.3G is a reality in those countries.

So, what is North American waiting for? For sure, the wireless carriers need to determine the best business model to make it profitable, and establish the communications infrastructure, which is not yet entirely in place to facilitate some of those applications and the handsets are just now available for better broad band accessibility.The demonstrations of location services via cellular telecommunications that I saw in the QUALCOMM, NAVTEQ, and Tele Atlas booths were utilitarian, rapidly delivered to the handset, clearly displayed on the small format, high resolution handset screens, and not available anywhere for purchase.Why? While the applications, platform, and content exist, the service does not.Try calling T-Mobile to purchase a traffic application.You can't. Want a "family finder" from Verizon.Not available.

I make the distinction between a "true" LBS app and an application that you can use via an internet-capable cell phone.A "true" LBS app is one that knows where you are, can build a "geofence" ("buffer zone" to us GIS types) around your real-time location, perform a "what's near me" query, and then deliver driving, traffic, and weather information from your current position to your destination.With the exception of a few cell phones models, such as a some of the SmartPhones now available, most are "blind" to your location.The FCC mandate for accurate E911 location services is the catalyst for location-enabled handsets, and in talking with a representative from Samsung, all of their phones will soon be "location-aware." Steve Lombardi, contributing columnist and Microsoft's MapPoint Technical Evangelist, wrote a series of articles on some of the barriers to creating "true" LBS applications.But, today, if you want "true" LBS, you will need to head to Japan and hook up with NTT DoCoMo's LBS services.

The end game is quite simply that your personal handheld appliance will include phone, digital camera, personal digital assistant, traffic finder, voice messenger, voice recorder, Internet browser, mini-TV, friend-finder, weather alert device, personal concierge, and navigation advisor.There are some handheld appliances that are getting very close.The Palm Treo 600 is the one most often mentioned.And while this device may cost $450 today, I imagine we will not be waiting too long for the price to be 1/3 of what it is now, and in 12-18 months there will be something that is every bit as good and maybe with other features that are the truly location-aware.

This special issue will hopefully give you an idea of the platforms, applications and services that are available or coming soon.There is no lack of interest in LBS among the carriers and handset manufacturers.LBS is not the "killer app" that it was once thought to be but it is no less valuable to the potential revenue stream for those offering technology.Location functionality will be just another embedded feature within the handset, location applications will be another option offered by wireless carriers, and location services will be an expectation on the part of consumers.

Published Friday, April 2nd, 2004

Written by Joe Francica

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