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GPS and Location Based Services (LBS) Enhance Smartphone Subscriptions, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

GPS:  Adding GPS features to wireless devices is a natural enhancement.  For example, package delivery giant UPS has provided GPS-enabled handhelds to its more than 75,000 drivers to help them find destinations quickly.  Other firms are using GPS services from Trimble Navigation Limited to determine the driving habits and locations of tens of thousands of company cars and trucks nationwide.  Are employees driving too fast?  Too slow?  Are company cars or trucks driving to places that weren’t authorized?  The platform, called GeoManager Fleet Management, is a combination of wireless, GPS and Internet technologies can provide the answers.  It has several competitors.

Another use of GPS is for emergency alerts.  For example, the SPOT Messenger from SPOT, LLC (a unit of Globalstar, Inc.) emits a signal to GPS satellites which then beam messages to SPOT’s service.  Designed mainly for use by hikers, mountain climbers and users in remote areas, SPOT can send messages to friends, family and emergency teams with location as well as situation information.


SPOTLIGHT:  Location Labs

The most interesting company in the location-based services sector may be Location Labs, formerly WaveMarket, .  Based near San Francisco in Emeryville, California, Location Labs is utilizing location-based techniques to provide a full spectrum of services—some just for fun, others for serious business.  Location Labs’ Sparkle geofencing service rings a physical location with virtual boundaries and targets mobile device users within those limits.  Employees or family members can be monitored to ensure they remain within specified boundaries.  The firm also offers products that block use of texting services while driving.  By early 2015, Location Labs had more than 1 million subscribers.


LBS:  LBS (Location-Based Services) refer to the use of GPS features in smartphones in order to display information relevant to a user's location.  For example, GPS-enabled smartphones can provide family members with the current location of children.  Also, LBS can provide users with information about nearby restaurants and other local features.  Location-based social networking is growing in popularity, since subscribers to LBS may elect to enable other subscribers to know their locations in real time.

The FCC requires that cellphone service providers be able to locate any user who makes a 911 call from a cellphone to within 50 to 100 meters.  However, this feature is not intended to help the subscriber as a GPS navigation device.  Location data is only used if an emergency call is placed.

Three major issues for full utilization of location-based services loom:  standards, accuracy and privacy.  Carriers need to agree on what technologies they will use to make services possible and how they will make them compatible with each other.  Currently, a number of different location-based technologies are available, but linking them together to provide seamless coverage is difficult.  Accuracy is another hurdle.  While GPS can pinpoint the location of a person quite easily outdoors, once the person moves indoors, accuracy quickly declines.  Finally, there is the privacy issue.  Not everyone wants to be tracked, and those who do may not want to be tracked all the time.  Protecting the rights of these users will be crucial.  Some services have a deactivation feature which blocks information sharing with others at the push of a button.

Standalone GPS navigation units are also available from manufacturers such as Magellan, Garmin and TomTom.  Units that may include voice command and links to local traffic information and other useful data.

Augmented Reality via Smartphones:  Augmented reality is any technology designed to enhance a user's experience by adding to the environment with computer-generated means.  Nokia engineers have introduced a prototype of a Mobile Augmented Reality Application (MARA) that uses a GPS sensor, a compass and accelerometers on a mobile phone.  The system allows a user to aim the phone’s camera at a place such as a building and retrieve information about that building and nearby businesses and landmarks from an external database, downloaded via fast wireless Internet access.  For example, a phone aimed at a sports venue such as the Staples Center in Los Angeles could display information about Lakers professional basketball tickets and schedules, nearby parking lots and prices, plus restaurant menus and prices inside the center.  Dozens of excellent augmented reality apps are available for the iPhone and for Android-based phones.


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