Location Based Services: Dissolving geographical boundaries
By Gaurav Maurya & Nitesh Sharma - Wed Jan 25, 4:23 pm
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In the vast gamut of Mobile value added services, facilities catering entertainment and gaming grab the major chunk of fascination from users. Particularly in India, apps offering engagement with Bollywood content, music, Cricket are the most preferred among mobile data users as these features strike the right chord. Nowadays, services easing the methods of payment of utility bills along with the Mobile Banking solutions are making lives convenient for people.
But, amidst variety of MVAS services, there is one segment which has the superlative degree of importance from different viewpoints of end subscribers, service enablers and regulatory authorities. Yes, Location Based Services (LBS) are the most talked about value adding components of the wireless telecommunication services in the arena these days. LBS currently is the hot cake for subscribers as well as the service providers, as they offer high value content to an end user describing him his exact location through a mobile device.
LBS infrastructure primarily enables operators to connect to a particular mobile device in a methodical system. The architecture enables the deployment of multiple location determination methods for the support of location services. These services are efficient and work in tandem with multiple mobile networks such as 2G, 3G and LTE.
Utility of LBS:
There is an immense market opportunity for software based LBS applications, focusing on public safety and assisting government’s security policies. These services can help administration in making an informed and safe society. Major areas where LBS can largely affect the usage of technology are Events, traffic, location relevant services normally initiated by a mobile handset user, tracking of fleets, assets and people, location based ads, marketing initiatives and location sensitive pages.
Apart from providing general info to the customer such as Theatres, restaurants, hospitals, guide maps etc, how can LBS significantly benefit the end users on the front of bestowing them with utility services such as health, education, land records, postal and judicial services.
As far as LBS is concerned, according to a new research report by Berg Insight, mobile location-based service (LBS) revenues in Europe are forecasted to grow from € 205 million in 2010 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.4 percent to reach € 435 million in 2016.
The study estimates that 20 percent of all mobile subscribers in Europe already use some kind of location-enhanced application on a regular basis. Local search, social networking and navigation services are the top application categories in terms of number of users.
The total North American LBS market is forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 2.3 percent from US$ 620 million in 2010 to reach US$ 710 million in 2016. “Higher adoption of smartphones is driving usage of mobile Internet services and apps in general. As more and more developers add location support in their apps to enhance the user experience, LBS is now gaining mainstream acceptance among mobile subscribers”, said André Malm, Senior Analyst, Berg Insight.
Along with this, NAVTEQ, the leading global provider of maps, traffic and location data enabling navigation, location-based services and mobile advertising around the world, in its recent study highlighted that Indian women are positively inclined towards adoption of navigation based devices and apps. Overall, there is an extremely high level of awareness (86%) of navigation devices amongst women respondents. 4 out of 5 women indicated that they feel more secure when travelling with a navigation device or app. Furthermore, 42% of the women surveyed indicated that navigation devices or apps would give them more confidence when they are travelling to unknown places and has the added advantage of making night travel somewhat safer.
“Although the awareness level regarding navigation as a category is high, only 1 in 3 women surveyed currently use some form of navigation device/app. From this research, it is clear that women can benefit greatly from device ownership, through navigation app on cell phones, portable navigation devices or in-vehicle navigation systems,” states Rajat Tandon, Director – Sales, NAVTEQ, India.
LBS landscape in India and Government’s mandate:
In India, the roll out of LBS applications on actual ground still seems to be translucent as both government and end users needed to be convinced about the benefits of LBS.
In June last year, the Department of Telecommunications rolled out an ‘Equipment Security Agreement’ requiring Telecom operators to maintain location related information of all their subscribers up to an accuracy level of 50 meters. The government wanted all operators running their services within the geographical boundary of India must deploy these services by 1st of June 2012, and offer them to all subscribers by June 2014. However, the government has always been keen on this subject and took initial steps in this matter way back in the year 2009.
However, despite supporting the intentions of government on ensuring the security of the country through effective deployment of LBS infrastructure, COAI (representative body of GSM operators in India) expressed its concern towards the huge amount of cost involved in this deployment which was to be borne solely by operators.
COAI in a statement at that time said, “While the industry heartily supports the need for ensuring the security of the country and is happy to implement government’s requirements, we do not believe this should be done at the sole cost to operators. Discussions with providers of LBS solutions have also raised serious concerns on the feasibility of meeting government’s strict requirements. Based on, the technical standards for accuracy levels as defined by the Government, the scale of implementation, the execution of the project and the complexities involved there is no solution at present that meets the DoT mandate. The costs to implement such a system have been estimated at approximately $5 billion.”
LBS: Vitality from perspective of National Security
Location Based Services can effectively help Indian LEAs (law enforcing agencies) and intelligence agencies to focus on public safety and assisting government’s security policies. This will assist the government in making an informed and safe society. Look at the view points of some of the players active in the Indian LBS market:
Conrad Labonte, Director, Business Development, Network Solutions, Asia Pacific at CommScope says, “We strongly believe that the location based services will really help the security forces to narrow down their area of uncertainty which will give a boost to the internal security system. Looking at the current scenarios, a country like India needs to be more prepared on preventive action plans rather than reactive. Since, it has more than a billion of population with approx 65% mobile teledensity, the operators can also look at introducing services like buddy finder, location based marketing, etc.”
Conard further elaborates, “India has a significant potential requirement for LBS applications for national security, law enforcement, counter terrorism, and national intelligence. The challenges faced by Indian society as it emerges to be a major economy have driven law enforcement to seek new methods of reducing the risk to critical economic development that terrorism may bring. As a result, it is imperative for the security services to both collect information for predictive and pattern assessment to assess future potential threats as well as to provide real time actionable intelligence to effect law enforcement or counter terrorism operation to save lives and protect property.”
2. Polaris Wireless
Manlio Allegra, CEO & Co-Founder, Polaris Wireless says, “High-accuracy location enables government agencies to take a major leap forward in their efforts to locate and track known and suspected criminals and terrorists. Our Altus application suite offers high-availability and high-reliability carrier-grade infrastructure to meet the mission-critical needs of law enforcement and intelligence agencies. For example, Indian LEAs and intelligence agencies can create a custom geo-fenced area and receive alerts when designated targets enter or exit the geo-fence. With this capability, administrations can protect sensitive buildings and other facilities from attack by terrorists or other criminals.”
Rohan Verma, Director, MapMyIndia explains, “I feel Location based services being offered by Telecom service providers are absolutely relevant and critical to the current industry and to the consumers. Consumers can benefit tremendously through LBS. Either for their safety, security, productivity, confidence on the road or even on the front of general entertainment as well.”
He adds, “And even from the government’s perspective its important to have the LBS and location interception facility attached to the Telecom services so that any wrong doing can be monitored and addressed. Obviously for the Telcos, in terms of investing in LBS, they can generate significant returns from premium VAS in the future as well.”
Conrad Labonte, says, “The existing technology of Location Based Services is completely compatible and supports GSM/UMTS (2G and 3G). There are a different set of location techniques and solutions specific to CDMA, and in general the global industry has been investing less here as the CDMA technology continues to sunset for newer developments.
This said, there currently exists a complete set of LBS techniques for both GSM/UMTS and CDMA that cover Cell-id, LMU, GPS and pattern matching for both mobile technologies. CommScope is also leading the standards industry for 4G LTE network LBS standards, and working closely to have the RAN vendors adopt a design approach that can provide high accuracy location with minimal extra cost to the operator compared to overlay approaches that have often been needed in 2G and 3G networks. The success of LBS depends upon selecting a multi-technology platform base at the beginning that can allow mobile operators to support all LBS technologies and not be constrained to one approach – as it is likely they will need to mix and match location techniques in different geographical and RF topologies to get the best possible accuracy to comply with DOT rule at the least cost investment.”
2. Polaris Wireless
Manlio Allegra on this issue comments, “Polaris Wireless location solutions are scalable and designed to evolve with the wireless network, ensuring operators that they will not outgrow their investment. The core technology is based on RF Pattern Matching (RFPM) which has been standardized at 3GPP.The Polaris Wireless solution is currently supported in 2G GSM and 3G UMTS air interfaces for control plane and user plane (SUPL) implementations using standard interfaces. For 4G LTE, the Polaris Wireless solution is supported in both user and control planes. The Polaris Wireless solution interoperates with additional air interfaces such as WiFi and WiMAX and is able to scale with network demand to accurately perform up to thousands of location transactions per second. In summary, the Polaris Wireless solution operates with any telecom infrastructure in India and any device, including the oldest legacy 2G handsets and the most recent 4G devices.”
Rohan Verma says, “Current technology for LBS, Map Data content is fully compatible with the existing 2G networks and even to the 3G and 4G networks coming up in near future.”
He adds, “We have operators who have launched LBS usning simple cell id based technologies and also we have operators talking about deploying even more accurate LBS in the future using 3G and 4G (LTE) technologies as well. So operators can start with LBS today only, because the right map data content and right technologies exist well across the country.”
Hurdles in deployment:
There are a lot of hurdles LBS providers face in terms of diffusion of these services in rural areas that are of utmost importance to the users comprising points of interest, navigation, locator etc. Here are the players’ perspectives:
Conrad Labonte commenting on the obstacles operators face while deploying the LBS infrastructure says, “Across the globe, operators face challenges during the initial deployment of LBS. Addressing rural and sparse areas becomes an exceptional challenge which has vexed even the US market for the past decade. In general, the less dense the cellsites, the greater the inaccuracy of any location estimate that is made by measuring radio signals from a mobile. The inter-site distance and the cell-sector density per square km are the key measures by which accuracy is measured. A lower inter-site distance and higher cell-sector density per square km will result in better accuracy measurements. This obviously becomes a challenge in rural areas where inter-site distances are higher and cell-sector density may be as low as 0.1 per sq km or even lower. The key challenge is to understand those characteristics, and understand the trade off in investment cost to provide location accuracy in such regions. It is necessary to be very clear with selecting technology as each technology has its own limitations on deliverables like accuracy, latency & yield that are all affected by cell-sector density and inter-site distance. Enhanced-cell ID provides very low accuracy in results in such regions, often many kilometers of uncertainty. Pattern matching will improve this somewhat, and in general the accuracy can be improved somewhat by making a greater effort in terms of collecting large numbers of sample data for calibrating the pattern match database in those areas at smaller ‘grid sizes’. However it may be neither practical nor even possible (Knowing Indian diversified terrain from Himalayas to Ran of Kutch) to collect sufficient pattern match data in rural areas at reasonable effort. At this point, in order to achieve any kind of reasonably useful accuracy, it is likely only Location measurement units (LMU)s can provide an answer, and those would need to be deployed at perhaps 90%+ of the sites in those rural regions. It was due to the spareness of cellsites (eg. High inter-site distances and low cell-sector density) that LMUs became a predominant method of performing location estimation in the United States. We expect in India that non-rural areas have other options however high accuracy requirements in rural regions are likely to drive to consideration of LMUs to achieve the final policy objective.”
2. Polaris Wireless:
Manlio Allegra on the deployment hurdles says, “Obviously with fewer towers in rural areas, there will be a certain degree of accuracy degradation in the location estimation, but with the high tower density in most regions of India, we do not expect a high percentage of calls to be made from this unique type of environment.”
Addressing user’s privacy concern and ensuring fair LBS business practices:
Indian authorities and users are most concerned about the security aspects attached to the deployment of LBS. It would be a big challenge for LBS players to convince people about the fair and beneficial usage of LBS. Ensuring transparent LBS business practices in coming future as the customers are already suffering with pesky calls, SMS and other unnecessary telecom interventions will be a must for players.
Conrad comments, “The Industry has to make consumer believe about the services and generate confidence in Location Based Services. Government is already making policies and amendments to avoid pesky calls and SMS. As a responsible solution provider, LBS players have to keep deep regard of India’s national concern along with user’s privacy. Personal information should not be disclosed and focus has to be in providing great amount of detail regarding places/products etc.”
2. Polaris Wireless
Manlio says, “For consumer services, LBS has typically been deployed as an opt-in service, meaning that people must explicitly permit their carrier to utilize their location to enable applications and offer services. For government use, LBS is implicitly an opt-in service (for example, when someone dials ‘102’, he is permitting ambulance services to locate him) or requires lawful authorization (for example, to track a criminal suspect).”
Rohan Verma says, “There is no security concern with LBS. The security concerns have been in International markets where multinational companies have taken technology in the wrong way of depicting people’s personal houses, their personal vehicle plates or pictures.”
“Now, MapMyIndia takes into deep regard of India’s national concern along with user’s privacy. We don’t disclose personally identifiable information. WE are only giving high amount of detail regarding places,” adds Rohan.
3G roll out – boosting LBS growth in India:
The recent roll out of 3G services in India by almost all the telecom operators will paly a major role in expansion of Location Based Services across the country. Market estimates predict that LBS sector is expected to grow at a rate of 80% annually due to 3G roll out. Look at what these players have to comment on this aspect:
Conrad comments, “3G roll out would definitely have a positive impact on the LBS sector. 3G network aims to provide a better user experience and people would gain easy access to computing. Also, there would be push to innovate valued added apps and services and we have been seeing a huge increase in demand from consumer and retail applications to tap the mobile network for mobile location in recent 2-3 years as 3G network and smartphone penetration increase in mature markets. We expect the same to happen rapidly in India.”
2. Polaris Wireless:
Manlio says, “We have seen many studies that predict explosive growth of LBS, and we generally agree. While consumer services such as mobile marketing are increasing, they have not grown as quickly as some predicted. At the same time, enterprise and government use is expanding rapidly. The net effect is that LBS growth is very positive, and our own business has reflected that increase.”
LBS: Extending footprints
Location Based Services have their penetration in almost every walk of life. These services can go deeper in the society and can offer great benefits to the general users as well as to the authorities and governments across the globe.
Manlio Allegra from Polaris Wireless says, “Almost any application can benefit from the addition of high-accuracy location. In addition to the consumer services you mentioned, we are seeing location as a critical enabler for safety-of-life applications such as locating emergency callers, surveillance to combat crime, and enterprise applications such as asset tracking and machine-to-machine location. To cite some of your examples above, location technology is in use today in the health industry (tracking Alzheimer’s patients and organs for transplant), postal services (delivery vehicle fleet management), and judicial services (bracelet monitoring of criminals). We expect all these uses and many others to grow in the future.”
On the same issue, Conrad Labonte comments, “LBS can play a significant role in addressing the needs of a common man. Some of the prominent applications of LBS are Health Campaign Alert, Weather Forecast Alerts, Monitoring postal/couriers, Transport Alert, Fleet tracking, Family location identification, logistics tracking, and many more.”
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