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What's shaking in location technology?

Technology enablers speed information delivery

Wireless Alert By Joanie Wexler, Network World
July 29, 2011 06:08 AM ET
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Industry analysis by expert Joanie Wexler, plus links to the day's wireless news headlines

Location-tracking services from mobile operators are no longer limited to the reach of their own cellular network coverage. Cross-carrier location services are available from companies such as AT&T and Vodafone, plugging visibility gaps and opening doors to new enterprise applications.

I described some of these applications, including fleet management, proximity marketing and credit card fraud detection, in the last newsletter.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: Cross-carrier visibility emerges for range of enterprise apps

There are a few enabling technologies spurring this progress in location capabilities. You're probably already familiar with global positioning system (GPS) satellite navigation system technology. A GPS receiver calculates its position by precisely timing messages sent by GPS satellites and computing the distance to each satellite.

There's also related capability called Assisted Global Positioning System (A-GPS). A-GPS speeds up the process of getting a "first fix" on the location of a cellular-connected device by using data shared between satellites and cellular networks. In other words, mobile applications don't always have to directly ping the faraway system of satellites to get GPS information, which can take as long as two minutes. Instead, they can extract the GPS's location information that's already stored in cellular network backbone equipment. That cuts the access time to about 30 seconds within approximately a 90-foot accuracy when outdoors.

Other technologies participating in the mix are called Cell ID (CID) and Enhanced Cell ID (ECID). CID relies on the cell site sector to report estimated latitude and longitude. ECID adds in RF triangulation parameters for an even more precise location fix.

CID/ECID use information from just the cellular network and, as such, are quicker to return a location -- in approximately three to 10 seconds. However, the accuracy of these systems is lower, described as being at the "neighborhood" level.

Multicarrier gateways, such as those from Loc-Aid, collect information from satellites and multiple mobile network operators' cellular networks to provide full visibility across all network coverage areas. A common API allows developers to build location applications to a single interface that can gather location globally, regardless of carrier.

Read more about wireless & mobile in Network World's Wireless & Mobile section.

Joanie Wexler is an independent networking technology writer/editor in Silicon Valley.

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