Thursday, August 11, 2011

Getting Accurate User Location – A Challenge for LBS Apps

If you are planning to develop a LBS (Location Based Services) mobile application, you will need mobile user location data. The success of your application will be determined based on user location data accuracy, smartness fast response.

Currently, there are 3 different technologies available in order to provide mobile user location data.

  • Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • WiFi Triangulation
  • Cell Tower Triangulation 

All above technologies has their below pros and cons. 

  • It’s a satellite based global navigation solution
  • Assisted GPS (A-GPS) helps to improve Time To First Fix (TTFF) rate for a mobile device
  • It's most accurate out of 3
  • Works best in Outdoors
  • Poor performance on cloudy weather, high rise buildings etc 
  • Fast consumption of battery power
  • Slow response (in returning data)

WiFi Triangulation:
  • It uses nearby wireless LAN access points to map user position
  • Works Indoors and Outdoors
  • More accurate than Cell-ID where WiFi coverage is strong
  • ZERO or limited access in areas having less WiFi hot spots

Cell Tower Triangulation:
  • It uses cell towers to determine user position
  • Cell ID information is readily available on mobile (using which mobile phone within coverage of cell tower can identify the cell-id of that tower, do lookup in Cell-ID DB to get geo coordinates
  • No Battery power consumption
  • Good accuracy, if areas where there are more cell towers nearby

Additionally, there are challenges like changing of user location, varying accuracy of location data on changing location obtained from same source, speed at which data is available etc makes difficult to locate accurate user position.

To overcome this, 

Many technology giants have launched their own Hybrid Location Service APIs (combination of WiFi, Cell-ID & GPS) to offer better, timely & accurate user location data regardless of environmental condition and works good both indoors & outdoors . This location services are designed using their special algorithms and proprietary databases to give a better user experience. 

  • Google WiFi Location Service API
  • Apple iPhone WiFi Location Service APIs
  • Verizon Wireless WiFi Location Service APIs
  • Skyhook WiFi Location Service APIs
  • Navizon WiFi Location Service APIs

Each of above has different business models with respect to 
  • Source: Combination of 2 or 3 sources (WiFi/GPS/Cell-ID)
  • Supported Platforms: iOS/Android/BB/WM/Symbian etc
  • Cost: Free/Per Request/Rev Share

Hope these APIs will add value to success of your LBS Mobile Apps!

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