Skyhook’s XPS 2.0 - Location Solutions for Truly Converged Devices

By Joe Francica

Skyhook Wireless announced the company's next version of XPS, a multi-mode location determination software solution. Basically, Skyhook is allowing device manufacturers to become "location determination agnostic." A device manufacturer using XPS 2.0 can leverage GPS, Wi-Fi or cell tower/Assisted GPS (A-GPS) to determine location. Skyhook's XPS 2.0 offers "all" the different ways for hardware to acquire an accurate location for whatever location-based service a carrier wants to bring to market.

XPS 2.0 is software solution that will look for a combination either Wi-Fi beacons, GPS satellites and cell tower signals to determine a location quickly, accurately and with as little power as possible. One goal is to significantly reduce the power consumption normally associated with GPS. The XPS solution is primarily aimed at device manufacturers as they prepare for their 2009 production with the hopes that the carriers will want to bring more LBS applications to market. Ted Morgan, president and founder of Skyhook, says that everyone, device manufacturers and carriers, are closely watching Apple's and Nokia's products, applications and acquisitions.

The XPS solution takes advantage of handsets that contain all three radios with location determination capabilities: GPS, Wi-Fi and A-GPS. Depending on the application, XPS tries to maximize accuracy and minimize power consumption. For example, applications like local search or social networking have different requirements. Generally you get can get a Wi-Fi signal in a second or two and for local search, and a 40 meter accuracy may be sufficient. For applications requiring more precise location determination, the XPS solution can simultaneously look for GPS satellites and cell towers. Independently, GPS or A-GPS can take between 20-40 seconds to get a fix. With XPS, a hybrid location determination is employed which may result in the location being acquired in only 3-4 seconds, so that less power is needed to run the GPS chips.

Here is how the hybrid solution works. While you may be able to get a GPS signal from the first two satellites in the first few seconds of turning on the device, the acquisition of a third satellite may take an additional 20-40 seconds and in urban canyons, it may be longer. With the XPS solution, Wi-Fi signals are acquired in little more than one second. If the user is in a building, he can obtain 40-meter accuracy within that first second, but within an additional two more seconds he'd likely have the two GPS satellites for 20-meter accuracy even though it may be a weak GPS signal. "GPS acts as a tiebreaker for us," says Morgan.

For the device manufacturers, the time to fix is important as locational accuracy is in more demand from users and improving the ability to maintain the accuracy while reducing the power is a concern. For applications like local search or "buddy finders," a "one shot look up" using Wi-Fi will do fine. To refine the location, the GPS radio may be turned on only for the two seconds that it needs to acquire two satellites and then it shuts off. In this case, XPS will likely save much more power. For applications like turn-by-turn navigation, the power demands are greater, but here XPS still may have an advantage. As you get into urban canyons, the confidence of the positional accuracy is lessened and the application may be forced to run on Wi-Fi. The radios shut down and the applications look to the solution that will save more power. For example, the iPhone with GPS will exploit many types of location applications and uses the current version of XPS in its latest release.

In addition to the three location determination methods noted above, XPS will also offer "stationary detection techniques" to reduce the "jitter and improve the pedestrian user experience." So, if your device is having trouble picking up a signal because you are in motion while walking, XPS is designed to perform a velocity calculation to make this determination and derive your location faster.

Skyhook Wireless' fleet of field signal surveyors will also be mapping the propagation patterns of cell towers locations and their locations, and providing a database of this information with the XPS solution.

Skyhook hopes to drive interest of device manufacturers to begin field trials to verify its claims and get XPS into the phones. Skyhook also announced that CSR, a manufacturer of GPS chips, will include XPS on their chips, similar to a deal Skyhook penned with SiRF.

Published Friday, July 4th, 2008

Written by Joe Francica

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