Accuracy boost for mobile apps

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Accuracy boost for mobile apps

James Winterbottom, Andrew  |   February 18, 2010
Wireless Asia

Location information provides the backbone of numerous new user applications launched into the nascent mobile apps market. Increased use of the mobile internet and smart-phones has led to a flood of new services, from navigational aids and tracking friends' whereabouts, to finding the nearest eatery - all of which depend on relaying accurate data to enhance users' experience of their phones. However, due to techniques that bypass the network's access infrastructure, this experience is often less reliable and less accurate than it could be.

In addition, users of VoIP applications, which also operate independently from the access network, could have far more serious implications for users. Calls made via VoIP make it notoriously difficult to determine a user's position. Should a person call emergency or security services using this technology, their location would not be able to be identified. This issue, and that of location quality, are of paramount importance to operators and their customers alike. 

Both issues arose with the widespread adoption of smartphones and increased use of 3G technology. Whereas early location deployments had the operator being largely in control of the whole location process, (from the determination techniques used to the applications that could access the information), the move towards 3G and smartphones has meant carriers have lost much of this control. Smartphone vendors are now increasingly providing autonomous GPS in handsets and/or running global location services, bypassing the operator's infrastructure and making location available directly to applications running on the smartphone.

Educated guesses

The truth is that data obtained from handset-based positioning is not as reliable as data provided in conjunction with the network. This is because handset-based solutions only look at the network data visible to the device, such as a Wi-Fi access point or cell tower information, and use this to make an educated guess about the location. As such, they attempt to put information about the world into a database (WiDB) which can be used to help make the educated guess.

Because of this, both the operators and the users begin to suffer. Users miss out on the optimum experience that location-based technology can offer, whilst operators can lose a valuable revenue stream.

Not only do WiDB alternatives take customers away from their own location applications, but once proprietary overlay location systems have penetration into the network they begin to bleed revenue from it. This can be through direct charges to the operator for their services and/or denying the operator the ability to collect revenue for information that they inherently own.

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