Location-Based Services: An EcosystemMonday, September 24, 2007
One of the hot areas in the wireless industry today is the marriage of wireless devices with location-based services (LBS). With the help of GPS receivers installed at cell sites and built into our wireless devices, it is now easier than ever to determine where a device is within a few meters.
LBS started in the United States to meet the requirements for Enhanced 911, or E911, mandated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Now that E911 is a reality and the networks have met their obligations in this regard, efforts have turned to how to employ location-based technologies to enhance the customer experience.
Not all of the resultant E911 systems are well suited for additional location-based services, but most network operators have implemented or are implementing additional hardware and software to enable the use of location as a key element in providing new services and enhancing existing applications.
Location services have long been used by fleets of vehicles, police, fire, UPS, FedEx and even the local plumber. Nextel (now part of Sprint) was a pioneer in the use of GPS for location services to serve its many customers with fleets of vehicles or people in the field. Today, location-based services are available on most of the major networks and are being implemented on GSM networks where GPS was not an integral part of the network. More devices with onboard GPS receivers are showing up on AT&T and T-Mobile and the networks are adding GPS at their cell sites to enhance the accuracy of device location.
Many companies believe LBS adds real value for wireless customers, not only in the way of fleet management but for consumers as well. We already have turn-by-turn direction capabilities in many wireless devices, built-in digital maps and other technologies to help both businesses and consumers benefit from location capabilities. One of the reasons LBS has been slow to be embraced is the fear that many customers won’t want anyone else to be able to know where they are. On the other hand, customers seem to understand that LBS adds real value to a variety of applications and with “opt-in” plans they can control when their location is available to the network or to an application.
Most of the early LBS applications have been just that―standalone applications designed to manage fleets of vehicles, track our children or find our friend’s location. Many potential LBS vendors are still demonstrating how to find the nearest ATM or movie theater, again in a standalone application. To me, the real value of LBS is not in standalone apps, but embedding LBS into existing and new applications to make them more functional and easier to use. For example, if you are looking for a restaurant close to where you are, the search should be based on your location to narrow down your choices by proximity.
We have been heavily involved in the area of LBS, working with companies that supply the technology, applications developers and network operators. Therefore, it was an easy decision when Kanwar Chadha, a co-founder and board member of SiRF Technology, asked if we would be interested in helping with a special event on location-based services. We agreed, and for the past few months we have been planning and organizing the event, obtaining speakers and sponsors and helping with the content. The object of the event, “SiRFecosystem’s Location 2.0 Summit,” is to energize those involved in location-based services and to explore ways to put together a complete LBS ecosystem and grow the market.
I am excited about this Summit. There is no charge to attend, and the afternoon session will include a keynote address, a fireside chat between Kanwar and me and four panels that will look at the location industry―from the network operators’ perspective, the device manufacturers’ point of view, a discussion on LBS and convergence and views from application and content companies. These panels will be in my favorite format, Question and Answer, without formal presentations and with time for questions from the audience.
The Summit will continue into the evening with a cocktail reception, dinner and a second keynote, and will end with SiRF presenting three awards to individuals who have helped drive the LBS market.
This is the first of what is planned to be an annual event and it is being held the first day of CTIA Wireless I.T. and Entertainment in San Francisco at the St. Regis Hotel. (Location 2.0 Summit is not affiliated with CTIA Wireless in any way.)
This first Summit will be modest in size. We are expecting 200 to 250 high-level executives from all of the various companies involved in LBS as well as companies that want to learn how the inclusion of LBS into their own applications and service offerings can help their products stand out in the crowd. (For more information and to find out how to obtain an invitation, visit http:///www.sirf.com/location2summit//)
Location awareness plays a large role in my hopes for the Wireless Internet (as opposed to the Internet delivered wirelessly). Knowing a person’s location can help make searches more relevant and, therefore, easier to use. LBS can, of course, help us find the nearest ATM or bank, but it can help us in a number of other ways as well. LBS embedded into existing applications can make them more effective. A typical example is an application designed to help you find a restaurant. You would select the type of restaurant, specify how close you want it to be to your current location and then choose one from the list. The phone number would be displayed so you could call and make a reservation, and then turn-by-turn directions would be provided.
If you are a salesperson on the road and your appointments are listed in your calendar, or if you use Salesforce.com to track your meetings, it should be possible for turn-by-turn directions to be provided automatically for each call. We already have the ability to track a person with Alzheimer’s, our children and our pets (yes, they make wireless GPS for pets, too). There are also a number of games, such as let’s play spy, that can be enhanced by the addition of location.
Other developers are working on “smart coupons” that would be sent to your wireless device as you drove or walked past a store. (These, I believe, will need to be on an opt-in basis). The navigation and turn-by-turn programs available today as standalone applications will, over time, become embedded into other applications. Those already available on Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and other networks are every bit as good as the navigation systems in automobiles with the added benefit that points of interest and other information is more current on a wireless device that can be updated over the air than on a CD or DVD.
I was recently driving up the Pacific Coast on the freeway and needed a gas station. The nav system in my car told me there was one at the next exit, but when I pulled off I found it was boarded up and looked as though it had been for a while. I then used my VZ Navigator on my mobile phone and it found two at the next exit, both of which were open for business. Location is not only about finding your way or finding a specific location, it is also about having the latest information. For example, Starbucks and Subway open many new locations each month. Using my car system, I may not find the one closest to my present location, but using my wireless device, chances are recent updates will include the closest Starbucks or Subway.
We are only beginning to scratch the surface of what we can do with location capabilities that are built into our phones and wireless networks and there are dozens of applications and services that can be enhanced by the incorporation of these capabilities. That is what the SiRF Location 2.0 Summit is all about―bringing the LBS community together to work together not simply to produce more standalone LBS applications, but to demonstrate how LBS can be applied to almost any application you may want on your wireless device.
One of the fastest-growing segments of the wireless market is the 15 to 25-year-old population, and as can be seen from Internet sites that have become popular almost overnight, social networking is important to this age group. Adding location capabilities to many of these applications makes a lot of sense since teens usually like to do things as groups. Having location capabilities available to them will enhance their wireless experience.
I believe that as we continue to see smarter devices on smarter networks and gain access to more information, location services will play an increasingly important role in wireless. This is one reason I am pleased to be a part of the SiRFecosystem’s Location 2.0 Summit and I hope to see some of you there.
Andrew M. Seybold