WiFi and GPS to solve e911 issue

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Randy Savicky
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WiFi and GPS to solve e911 issue

A few companies are leveraging both WiFi and GPS to pinpoint a location during an emergency, such as an e911 emergency phone call. How does WiFi wireless help pinpoint a location, you ask? Simple, it uses a similar concept to GPS - it uses a known set of WiFi Access Point (AP) fixed locations and triangulation of signal strength of several APs to determine a location. I should point out that Russell Shaw has been harping on using GPS to solve the e911 dilemma, especially on mobile phones, which IMO is only a partial solution at best. Try getting a GPS signal during a bad snow storm. I got lost in a snowstorm and my GPS couldn't get a lock.

And of course, GPS doesn't work indoors at all, so that's where WiFi comes into play to fill that void. Using WiFi APs to triangulate a position requires that the APs stay in a fixed static location and that the AP database contain hundreds or even thousands of APs over a wide area in order to work. It's obviously best suited for high-density AP environments such as metro areas. The nice thing about WiFi triangulation is that this doesn't require that you logon to the AP, which may or may not be WEP/WPA encrypted, or even need to 'see' the IP packets. Instead it simply uses the AP's signal strength and mathematical formulas to determine location. In fact, any company that builds a database of APs doesn't even need to notify the access point owner since they are simply looking at the wireless signal itself and not the private data.

A few years ago, a company called Ekahau exhibited at a TMC tradeshow called Planet PDA and demonstrated this WiFi triangulation technology on the tradeshow floor to map out each of the tradeshow's exhibit booths. You could walk around with a PocketPC and their software and it would show you a graphical map depicting exactly where you were on the trade show floor. I sure could have used this technology at this year's CES, which will be monstrous. Ah damn, I forgot I won't be able to make it to my favorite show. :(

In any event, Skyhook today announced that it has inked an agreement with Tele Atlas, a leading global geographic content provider (GPS data - they compete with NAVTECH), aimed at delivering next generation location-based services (LBS). The companies will work together to provide a combined street navigation, geo-coding and location database. The two companies will jointly target the E911, local search, fleet management, personal navigation and telecommunications markets. Existing LBS applications can enhance their offerings by improving their position accuracy in downtown and mixed mode environments.

Here's the announcement they made today. I also have a conference call with them later today, so I'll blog any more insights that I learn.

Tele Atlas, a leading global geographic content provider, and Skyhook Wireless, provider of the industry's first Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS), announced today an agreement aimed at delivering next generation location-aware solutions.

The companies will work together to provide application developers with a single source for location-aware geographic content. The agreement will not only expand the addressable market for location-aware applications to any Wi-Fi enabled laptop, PDA or mobile phone, but will also enhance the location coverage available in environments where traditional location technologies fail.

Signals from GPS satellites are often interrupted or disappear completely in complex environments such as urban canyons or mixed indoor/outdoor environments. The software-based WPS from Skyhook Wireless overcomes these shortcomings by leveraging a database of known Wi-Fi access points to accurately calculate location. Unlike GPS, WPS does not require single purpose hardware, and supplements GPS to provide additional reliability, compatibility and coverage for location-aware solutions.

"One of the biggest challenges to the mass adoption of location-based services has been the lack of a seamless integration between geographic data and reliable location determination" said J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D. principal analyst for Cupertino based the wireless analyst group MobileTrax."The partnership between Tele Atlas and Skyhook Wireless is a step in the right direction for the development of pervasive location-based services."

Combined with highly accurate, up-to-date Tele Atlas geographic data, Wi-Fi enabled devices will be able to consistently position users attempting to find location information or points of interest (POIs) where no adequate GPS signals exist. They can also quickly guide emergency service workers trying to find the location of an individual using a Wi-Fi enabled device, even if that device is well inside a building.

"The ability to easily pinpoint a specific location on a map - whether indoors or out - is imperative for the fast developing location-based services (LBS) applications market," said Michael Shean, co-founder and vice president of business development, Skyhook Wireless."Tele Atlas has a superior process for ensuring its maps and other geographic content are highly accurate and completely up-to-date, as well as a long heritage of serving the very complex emergency services market. They are also the ideal partner, with the best database, for the emerging location application market."

"Skyhook's WPS technology breaks traditional barriers in metropolitan markets, and will deliver a significant advancement to our partners," said Mike Gerling, chief operating officer, Tele Atlas, the Americas. "The combination of Skyhook's WPS solutions and Tele Atlas street navigation and geocoding data means mobile consumers of all stripes and emergency services personnel can, without interruption, locate any place, product, or person."



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