U.S.Poised to Capitalize on Location Services

By Jason Angelides

U.S. Poised to Capitalize on Location Services

Carriers in the U.S.have made substantial progress in building out the infrastructure for the E-911 roll-out. As a result of E-911 and several other factors, wireless analysts and industry experts suggest that the U.S.wireless location application market is poised for substantial growth.

Deployment of E-911 has reached the Phase II compliance stage of the FCC mandate. Carriers are required by the FCC to put the infrastructure in place for precise location of a wireless caller, by December 31, 2005. This high-accuracy infrastructure sets the stage for high-accuracy LBS in the future.

Technologies are demonstrating capabilities for supporting high-accuracy location across a broad variety of environments - indoors, urban, suburban and rural environments. Now that the regulatory pressure has subsided, carrier resources have been freed up to pursue revenue generating service offerings based on their wireless location infrastructure investment.With the infrastructure in place to support robust applications, carriers look to generate substantial revenue from wireless location applications.

The European Union (EU) experience with wireless location services provides lessons to be learned about what can and should be done concerning the need for high accuracy. Deployment of consumer applications in the EU such as child finders and asset trackers like car finders, demonstrate that high-accuracy technologies are required for acceptable consumer quality of service.

As a result of the growing public consciousness regarding public safety and homeland security in the U.S. since September 11, 2001, Americans are more aware than ever of the value of wireless location services for public safety.

Finally, consumer awareness of wireless location services in the U.S.is growing.According to market research firm InStat/MDR, half of wireless phone users and 55 percent of wireless Internet users were aware of location-based services and almost a third were willing to pay a monthly service fee for location services. In addition, wireless market research firms Instat/MDR and Kerton Group expect the market for customer LBS applications to begin taking off.

The Flexible Paradigm
Wireless carriers are beginning to realize that wireless location services are about more than selling applications and services to individual subscribers.The potential for new revenue that comes from tracking valuable assets over very large areas will be a powerful motivator for the development and marketing of such services to businesses.Many will not rely on conventional wireless phones but rather on wireless location devices, which are essentially wireless transceivers with voice and data communication capability stripped out.Sales of the location devices themselves could provide a major source of revenue in the future. The market already has seen the commercial success of Garmin and Magellan GPS-based location devices for recreational uses such as boating, fishing, biking and hiking.

Technical requirements of the wireless marketplace vary from market to market, from service to service, and from application to application. For location services to succeed, carriers must be able to provide a high quality of service, value and usability regardless of the nature of the environment - urban, suburban, rural or indoors.

Performance and quality of service become extremely important in offering location-based services. It is important to consider the appropriate technology for the location service offering. For example, location services like "friend finders" may demonstrate a need for modest reliability and accuracy necessary to locate a friend or colleague. But, "child finders" need to support high accuracy and reliability because of the precise need to locate a child.

According to a research study of 25 carriers in the European Union conducted by BWCS, a leading telecommunications consultancy based in the UK, carriers responded that they did believe that accuracy would increase the attractiveness of some applications to consumers and revenue generation. For example, 60 percent of carriers responded that accuracy would not improve the attractiveness of friend finder services. But there was near total agreement that three applications - Child Locator (84 percent), E-112 -the EU equivalent of E-911 (88 percent) and Asset Tracker (88 percent) - would be more attractive to customers if the performance of the underlying technology was improved.

Location Driven By Demand
For wireless location services to be successful, they will be driven by the market not by technology.It is essential to determine demand, the types of services and applications wanted by consumers, on a market-by-market basis.For a particular market, the defined set of applications and services will have a set of unique performance requirements including accuracy, speed of delivery (a.k.a.latency), reliability, coverage, etc.

Carriers are now considering the implementation of a range of wireless services including LBS, for many millions of subscribers over a huge geographic area. Each geographic region may feature unique characteristics - indoor/outdoor, urban, suburban, or rural - that impact location success. As location services are deployed, carriers may potentially require supplemental support from other technologies.We need to recognize that no single technology will support the location needs of the range of applications over a broad geographic area.

Placing us in the shoes of the subscriber, every market and every use case will have three primary requirements.

First, what is the value of the service, i.e.the importance of the information provided by the service to the subscriber? The service must be a compelling investment for both the carrier and end user.

Second, the quality of service is important to retaining a customer.If a location-based wireless service requires 100-meter location accuracy 90 percent of the time, then failure to provide this quality will simply lead to unsatisfied customers who may drop the service. As a result of experiences in Japan and Korea, customers attempting to use A-GPS-based (Assisted Global Positioning System) services complained vigorously to carriers about the loss of accurate service when they called from inside buildings.

The third factor is usability.The introduction of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) to the market demonstrated that subscribers want their services, and the interfaces provided to support them, to be simple, straightforward, and above all, not time-consuming.A key element of service success is enabling the users to feel that the service is so easy to use, that it becomes a natural part of their relationship with their wireless phone.

High-Accuracy Location Technology & Applications
In attempting to satisfy the service needs of their subscribers, carriers have multiple technologies at their disposal. Accuracy of location requirements for LBS applications can range from less than 50 meters for safety and security applications, to several square blocks or more for less critical applications.Figure 1 illustrates possible ranges and representative technologies that might be used in each range.

Figure 1. Accuracy and Location Technologies.Click image for larger view.

A successful location system must be able to, first, determine the specific location needs of an individual caller; second, prioritize the response; third, select the appropriate technology or combination of technologies, to deliver the appropriate service level; and finally, exercise the technologies at its disposal to calculate and deliver the location to the requesting service.

For example, a turn-by-turn direction application needs to be accurate enough to provide a specific location, providing the next turn as the user progresses through a set of directions, while a movie finder simply needs to find a theater located on a city block, in a strip mall or a large mall facility.
A flexible and multifaceted approach may be the answer.Location technologies are not exclusive to each other.For example, it is possible to use U-TDOA (Uplink Time Difference of Arrival) and A-GPS together to provide a more precise location to the end user using the capabilities of U-TDOA in obstructed environments such as indoors or urban settings and take advantage of the open-sky capabilities of A-GPS outdoors. Complementary technologies will provide greater levels of accuracy and quality of service as the market matures and demands greater accuracy in more sophisticated applications.

Emergence of the Full-Service Solution Provider
Particularly for carriers in the U.S.market, selecting a suite of high-accuracy wireless location services has been challenging. Carriers are faced with assembling a set of location service offerings from many disparate components including core location products, middleware and applications. Now, they can tap a single source to assist in deploying the location based services that best serve their customers: a full-service solution provider.

While each application or technology (Figure 1) may perform well in isolation, attempting to build a comprehensive suite of location service offerings from individual components delivered by multiple vendors creates a logistical and operational nightmare.

Service providers possess the location experience and expertise to assist carriers in taking a flexible approach to wireless location services on a broad scale. The full-service solution provider has the versatility to deliver turnkey location services that enable carriers to meet the needs of their customers while executing cost-effective, profitable business plans.

The full-service provider is able to offer the carrier any level of the value chain desired, as illustrated by the model in Figure 2. Ideally, the model would be implemented by a single provider with experience in each of the essential component areas.Alternatively, an integration provider or partnership of vendors and application developers that contributes all the necessary skills, experience, and resources can act as a full-service provider of services to the carrier.

Figure 2. Integrated Location Services Organization.Click image for larger view.

This full-service approach clearly offers a more economical and efficient way of delivering services.It simplifies the integration of multiple technologies.Equally as important, this approach allows the carrier to deploy specific services when and where they are needed and to expand service delivery as market demand grows.

Most importantly, an integrated service provider can address a range of applications and services that require performance beyond the capacities of any single technology.The integrated business model makes it possible to combine or hybridize location data to provide results even under unfavorable conditions.

For example, in situations where persons or very valuable assets are at risk, knowing the caller's position within tens of meters can be of critical importance.When the person or asset under consideration is inside a building, especially in an urban center, the environment (i.e.buildings) blocks visibility to the sky. This means that the number of GPS satellites available to an A-GPS-equipped mobile device may not be enough to provide any location, let alone a precise one. In critical situations, the technology choice may lead to loss of assets or life.

In such a situation, a flexible system will combine timing data from both the A-GPS wireless device and Location Measurement Units (LMUs) in a U-TDOA network.Since the LMUs always have clear visibility to satellites, this strategy can provide high-accuracy positioning in spite of the blocked location of a mobile phone or other device.

Plan for the Near Future
In conclusion, the convergence of several significant events means that the U.S.market for wireless location services is poised for success. The challenge for carriers in the U.S.is to develop a flexible, versatile location platform that works with different technologies that can be scaled to any level of need, for a variety of applications, for a high quality of service.

A wealth of market research and real-world testing tells us that no single technology can satisfy all the emerging location markets.But today's carriers have the choice of working with vendors and solution providers who provide the technologies and expertise to implement the quality of service for any level of location demanded by a range of subscriber segments within and across national borders.A versatile, integrated approach can help carriers develop location services that satisfy customer demand with maximal efficiency.

Published Thursday, January 27th, 2005

Written by Jason Angelides

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