112 won't necessarily be a boost for LBS
Oranges launch of its "Find Nearest" SMS service is evidence that operators are far from giving up on location based services (see link at the bottom of this page for the news announcement). There is clearly a demand, latent or blatant, for services designed to add to your life as you move around the world a yearning for a drink and a mobile in your pocket.
Oranges technology provider for this service is Webraska, which uses a Cell-ID based system to map a mobiles location. In a nutshell, the service will compare your location to a directory of whatever it is you are trying to find. The service uses two-way SMS rather than WAP, which Orange initially used when it first launched its Find Nearest service last year.
This kind of service was expected to be so commonplace by now, that it comes as something of a surprise to see that operators are only now beginning to get to grips with the practical issues of how to deliver them to users. The issues for location based services (LBS) are no different to any other service. First, users have to know the service exists, then they have to know how to work it, then the service itself has to work. This requires operators to have a complete view of marketing, service delivery and quality of service.
There are also still plenty of discussions up for grabs as to which technology is best placed to help operators deliver these services. Cell-ID is the dominant European platform at the moment, but there is increasing momentum, not least from the handset manufacturers, behing Assisted-GPS (A-GPS), which is a kind of souped-up version of GPS.
But Jason Angelides, director, Global Services, for TruePosition, a US based LBS company which has just opened offices in London and Stockholm to address the European market, says that reducing the debate down to the level of technology platform is what has been, in many ways, holding back the LBS market.
TruePosition is "not technology agnostic", Angelides says. Indeed it holds most of its IPR in a technology called U-TDOA. U-TDOA is what Cingular and T-Mobile, two of three national GSM 1900 US oeprators use, so TruePosition naturally falls more on that side of the fence.
But Angelides insist that what operators need is to take a whole view of what LBS they want to offer, and to what level. If, for instance, it is vital that an operator has high accuracy, even for a user in an indoor environment, then GPS is not going to be a natural fit. If an operator has dense cells in an urban area then Cell-ID could provide the correct level of accuracy, but if the cells are more dispersed in a rural or suburban environment, then Cell-ID may not provide a uniform service level, Angelides argues.
Therefore the answer is a consultative approach, blending technologies to suit customer demand and operator need. There is one further event which overshadows the LBS market that of 112, emergency number, legislation along the lines of the 911 mandate in the US.
It seems increasingly likely that the EC will make some move to lean heavier on operators to be able to locate emergency calls accurately. Perhaps by the end of the year there may even be a legislative requirement. Now, although you might expect a provider of LBS technology to be leaning heavily on government to introduce such a mandate, Angelides thinks too heavy-handed an approach will be counter-productive.
In the USA, he argues, the mandate concentrated operators minds solely on meeting the requirements by a certain date and to a certain spec, and meant that commercial applications of the technology inevitably took a back seat.