Location-based services (LBS) have been championed for years as the obvious (if not ultimate) value-add for mobile services long before GPS chips became standard-issue for handsets, and long before OTT players like Google, FourSquare and others came along to create apps that leveraged handset geotagging capabilities.
But while LBS has come a long way since the days of network-enabled technology solutions like CellID, T-DOA and E-OTD, one thing that hasn't changed much is this: the quality of any location app or service is only as good as its ability to accurately determine where you are within a useful range (five to ten meters). And because GPS does what it does best through line of sight, the real challenge to LBS has been getting it to work as well indoors as outdoors.
Solutions to the indoor-LBS problem abound, many of them proposing to leverage Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth. One of the more original ideas out there comes from Finnish outfit IndoorAtlas, which proposes to determine location by measuring disturbances in the Earth's magnetic fields created by a building's internal structures.
The core technology - which, interestingly enough, is based on the ability of spiny lobsters to detect the direction of the Earth's magnetic field and sense their true position relative to their destination - is completely software-based and promises location accuracy "from 0.1 meter to 2 meters" - which would be a vast improvement on Wi-Fi positioning solutions from companies like Navizon and Skyhook Wireless, which currently promises accuracy of 10 meters (equivalent to GPS).
However, these are all essentially individual efforts pushing individual solutions.
Which is why Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics and Sony recently decided that an industry alliance was the ticket to developing better indoor accuracy.
The In-Location Alliance, announced last month and comprising 22 companies at launch, says it will focus on "creating solutions offering high accuracy, low power consumption, mobility, implementability and usability", and "create an ecosystem that stimulates innovation, enhances service delivery, and accelerates the adoption of solutions and technologies that optimize the mobile experience."