Get Your Location Fix
By Jeff Goldman, Fri Jun 13 00:00:00 GMT 2003
A number of factors are making GPS an increasingly common addition to mobile phones. In just a few years, it'll be hard to find a phone without it.
Walking through midtown Manhattan one
afternoon, your GPS-enabled phone beeps as you pass a trendy clothing
shop. Your phone has alerted the store to your presence at their
doorstep (after you opted in to the service during a recent promotion),
so the shop is letting you know that the new line of suits youd
inquired about has just arrived.
While trying on a
particularly sharp double-breasted pinstripe, you suddenly realize
youre late for dinner across town with your wife. You grab your phone
again, scroll through a few options, and select Taxi. You dont have
to enter your locationyour phone does that for youand seconds later, a
taxi screeches to a halt in front of the shop, you jump in, and youre
As the taxi approaches the restaurant, you scroll
down the same list of options on your phone and select Family, then
your wifes name. Instantly, her location pops up on the screenshes
two blocks away, walking from the subway station. You ask the driver to
pull over, pay your fare, then walk over to meet her on her way to the
Using GPS-enabled phones, all of these
services are on their way, if not already available, from a number of
carriers worldwide. In many ways, GPS and mobile phones are starting to
look like the perfect match.
For the time being, though, there
are some bumps in the road.
Lost in the City
While GPS might seem like an
eminently logical way to offer location services on mobile phones, its
only one of many ways to enable such servicesand it presents unique
challenges in urban areas. Significant multipath errors can be created
by signals reflected off skyscrapers, and reception can be blocked out
entirely as the signal tries to pass through buildings.
Since the late 90s, a number of assisted GPS (A-GPS)
solutions have been available, using fixed reference receivers to
improve both accuracy and reception. The results, however, have been far
from perfectand with other options available, many carriers looked at
triangulation technologies instead of GPS when considering location
solutions for their networks.
include E-OTD (Enhanced Observed Time Difference), which measures the
time it takes for a signal to reach a network of fixed base stationsand
TDOA (Time Difference of Arrival), which similarly measures the time a
signal takes to arrive at a group of nearby cell sites. The key
difference is that E-OTD is handset-based, while TDOA is based in the
Each technology has its benefits. GPS
requires the addition of hardware to the handset, while the other
technologies only require a software upgrade at mostalthough they
demand changes to the network infrastructure that GPS doesnt require.
And both triangulation technologies are less accurate than GPS,
especially in rural areas where cell sites or base stations are too far
apart to provide a precise location fix.
solution is a combination of GPS and triangulationbut Zelos Group
analyst Seamus McAteer is skeptical about the viability of hybrid
solutions. I find it doubtful that well see carriers wanting support
for E-OTD and GPS in a handset, he said. Theyll make a choice. Every
dollars saved on bill-of-materials is a dollar in the bank.
And a number of carriers are being forced to make
that choice under a very tight deadline.
In the United States, the implementation
of location technology for mobile phones has been greatly accelerated
by the Enhanced 911 (E911) mandate, which
requires all new handsets to be capable of automatic location
identification by the end of 2002. For U.S. consumers, that means the
early arrival of location-based services.
Prioleau, Director of Product Marketing for GPS technology company SiRF
Technology, points out that location services have long been delayed
by the fact that handset manufacturers dont want to build
location-aware devices until services are available to make use of
them, and carriers dont want to deploy services without available
However, now that the E911 mandate has
forced the resolution of that dilemma in the U.S., SiRF Technology
anticipates an enormous jump in GPS chipset sales, from 100,000 in 2001
to over five million in 2002. Thats a lot of GPS-enabled phones
deployed to satisfy E911 requirements, and Prioleau says location-based
services should quickly follow.
The carriers have had
to implement E911 without any real way of recovering revenue from it,
Prioleau said. Now that all these location-enabled phones will be in
peoples hands, there will be a big emphasis on figuring out what
location services can go along with thattheres going to be huge growth
in the U.S. in location-based services.
the mix of standards that has long characterized the U.S. wireless
industry has continued with E911. VoiceStream, AT&T Wireless, and
Cingular, all GSM networks, are implementing either TDOA or E-OTDwhile
Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS, both CDMA networks, as well as
Nextels iDEN network, are employing A-GPS.
E-OTD is built to work within the GSM standard and requires only minor
software changes to implement on a GSM phone, its an easy solution for
those carriers to take on. For other carriers, the availability of a
low-cost A-GPS chipset for CDMA networks from QUALCOMM made GPS more
Still, Zelos Groups McAteer contends that
triangulation technology will soon fade into the background. GPS will
emerge as the volume leader, as its the solution that will be used by
the major CDMA carriers, he said. Its being implemented and
integrated on QUALCOMMs silicon, so its part of the cellular chipset:
the cost issues are eased to some extent by the integration in the core
cell phone silicon itself.
While U.S. carriers are struggling to
keep up with the demands of E911, commercial services are appearing
without government intervention in the Japanese marketthough, as
McAteer points out, the higher average revenue per user in Japan makes
it much easier to introduce innovative services. Theres very different
structural dynamics at play in the Japanese market, he said.
A number of commercial GPS services have already been
deployed in Japan using QUALCOMMs gpsOne, a hybrid version of A-GPS
that includes TDOA technology. Last April, the security company SECOM
launched its CoCo SECOM service, which uses a CDMA device and a gpsOne
receiver to keep track of anyone or anything, from a child to a
vehicle, for less than $10 a month.
KDDI released a series of GPS Keitai handsets, which have attracted
over 50 content suppliers to offer location services on KDDIs
networkranging from navigation solutions to location-based restaurant
guides. And last month, the carrier announced its HELPNET Keitai
service, which offers emergency location services and roadside
assistance to KDDIs users for under $5 per month.
Meanwhile, in Europe, a number of basic location
services are already available, though most use either E-OTD or TDOA,
not GPS. McAteer suggests that the choice of triangulation technology
over GPS in Europe has a lot to do with what he calls the
not-invented-here syndromeamong other factors. E-OTD was also
perceived as a lower-cost solution, he said.
will also likely affect European uptake of GPS location services: the
E.U.s Enhanced 112 (E-112) initiative promises directives similar to
those in the United States. Still, according to Neesha Hathi, Director
of Strategic Marketing for the GSM technology company Enuvis
(www.enuvis.com), Europeans will have the advantage of learning from the
mistakes made by their American counterparts.
Unfortunately, what the US mandate makes the carriers
do is choose a technology which is expensive and may not be as good,
because they have a time limitation, Hathi said. They may choose the
technology thats inferior in the endand because theyve already put in
the investment, they wont want to look at a technology thats better.
Regardless, SiRFs Prioleau sees great reason for
optimism in the range of handsets recently announced by companies like
Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Samsung. Were starting to see the
brand name companies introducing products with GPS, he said. The most
promising thing is the fact that the guys with the real marketing clout
in the wireless market are starting to put products out there.
In many ways, Prioleau sees the advent of smartphones
as the best news of all for the GPS market: with so much functionality,
he suggests, a new range of services will surely follow. Those phones
tend to have more processing power and color screens, he said. The
number of applications that can be run on them starts to increaseand
that whole new market is going to lend itself very well to GPS.
Goldman is a freelance writer covering a wide range of
topics for a number of online journals. He currently writes regular
articles for Internet.com's ISP-Planet. Brought up in Belgium,
Jeff spent the last decade in New York, Chicago and London; he now lives
in Los Angeles.