Who's Holding Back Location-Based Services?
By Mike Masnick, Tue Mar 08 02:00:00 GMT 2005

People have been talking about location-based services for years with little to show for it. However, some are now pointing fingers at the operators for slowing down adoption until they can figure out how to profit from it. That may be the least of the problems facing LBS apps.

Location-aware phones are becoming the norm in many places, in part due to new emergency services regulations that require the phone to give an accurate location of the caller in an emergency situation. The US has advanced quite a bit in this area, with its E-911 regulations, whereas Europe has lagged a bit with its comparable E-112 rules. While most people naturally assume that GPS built into phones is the only way to go for location-based offerings, TDOA (time difference of arrival) technology can also do the trick, often with better accuracy and without facing the problems GPS has in urban canyons and inside buildings (many of which can be solved with assisted GPS solutions).

However, as these systems are now coming online in the US, some are wondering why they can't access the location data themselves or make use of applications that have access to the data. While some location-based offerings are starting to show up for mobile phones, they're still not all that popular, leading to some conspiracy theories that the operators are holding back access to the location data until there's a way to profit from the data in some manner.

This might be jumping the gun a bit. While it is true that operators haven't moved fast enough in opening up their networks for third party applications, there are many efforts underway to offer location-based services. The operators, themselves, have been pushing for such apps for quite some time -- but (for once) seem to understand that the technology is still a bit immature. As the technology is more proven, expect plenty of location-based apps to hit the market on both open and closed networks.

The real question isn't going to be about the operators holding back LBS, but figuring out which applications really make sense for users. Too many are still looking at location-based services as an opportunity to spam people on the go, rather than an opportunity to help users bridge the analog and digital worlds by using the phone as a portal to additional information and services based on where the user is standing. It isn't the operators holding back location-based services, but the lack of the truly compelling applications.