The boss of a British supplier of location based services infrastructure says the technology's time has finally come.
After a series of false starts that would shame a 1996-vintage Linford Christie, Chris Wade, ceo of Cambridge Positioning Systems (CPS), says that LBS technology is now available to operators at a price and level of accuracy that make it a worthwhile investment.
A version of CPS' patented technology is gaining ground with operators, offering a viable alternative to GPS. One recognition of this has come from Frost & Sullivan, which awarded CPs its Customer Value Award for 2004.
Wade admits that the LBS provider claims to have been here before, only to fail. That was because previous technology relied on units (LMUs) being installed at each base station where an operator needed coverage. Operators baulked at the cost of the system, which Wade said touched $35 per subscriber. The base station unit approach also meant that the LBS providers needed to form their own relationships with OEMs such as Nokia and Ericsson.
Meanwhile CPS has developed internally a technology that was purely software based, and required no base station installations. Despite this, Wade admits that CPS was still trying to make a success of its existing technology, and had even licensed it to Ericsson, Siemens and Nortel, and there had been trials in Helsinki with Sonera, in London with Vodafone and with German operators. But the trials petered out when the operators realised what the cost of a network-wide rollout would be,
CPS then turned to its "new' technology, which it had christened Matrix. Matrix is built around a technology known as E-OTD, which uses handset and server software to take measurements, rather than base station based units. Then, as Wade tells it, around 18 months ago the operators started to come back to LBS, but because of their experience with the base station based technology they were more open to listening to the GPS community. But soon operators were finding a huge difference in the performance of GPS over GSM as opposed to GSM over CDMA networks. Whereas in-building accuracy may be down to 100m with a CDMA GPS system, over GSM that accuracy was down to 300m. Also, it took up to a minute for GPS to create a position over GSM. The reason for this is to do with the timing updates the GPS chipset needs from the network. As CDMA is a synchronised network the time to a first fix was much quicker. Qualcomm had also developed a fall-back triangulation mechanism for GPS over CDMA, whereas there is no such equivalent for GPS over GSM.
Briefly, CPS tried to tie its fortunes to GPS, recognising the need to have a foot in a number of camps, Wade explains.
However, with GPS systems meaning a similar network integration effort for operators, and wrangling at standards level from the main vendors, CPS has recently begun to market its E-OTD system to operators, and Wade claims there will be a commercial deployment of the system before the end of 2004. Wade says that in trials with Telia Sonera the Matrix technology has been averaging accuracy to 88m 67% of the time, compared with 300-400m with Cell-id based technology (which maps a user based on which cell he is in).
"Pleasantly surprised" by this, in Wade's terms, the operator is now considering which services to launch on its network.
Wade reserved some harsh words for competitor company True Position, which markets a base station-based solution based on its own U-TDOA technology. As with CPS' own LMU (location monitoring unit) based system, it comes in at a hefty cost per user.
Jason Angelides, ceo of True Position, responded to the implication that LMU based systems are inherently too expensive for operators. He said that operators need to take a demand-led approach to LBS. In other words, if operators decide that the most profitable services merit the most expensive solution, then it is worth the investment. But if services can meet expectation based on solutions that cost less (Cell-id, GPS) then operators should build that into their technology mix.
TruePosition is endeavouring to communicate to European operators the message that it is more than just a provider of systems to US operators who had to meet the E911 mandate. Angelides said, "We are often viewed as a parochial solution, extremely complex and not cost-effective, but we are communicating there are multiple ways to go about this.
"People have pointed to the cost of the technology but you get out what you put in. Operators are now using Cell-id which they basically paid nothing for. As a result they can provide generalised location information without the quality of service needed for high value services.