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LBS: A Dream Continually Deferred

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iphone_pic_fixe1The Wall Street Journal this morning had a short article pointing out the somewhat obvious reasons why location-based services on cell phones are still not mainstream. It also helpfully pointed out that carriers were working on it. To recap, LBS services need three main things: a way to get location (which we have thanks to GPS chips and even the ability to triangulate using Wi-Fi networks), software that can make sense of geographic information and do something with it (which are out), and cooperation between handset makers and carriers to enable developers to access such services easily.

It’s the cooperation piece that fails, but the article points to several companies such as Nokia (s NOK), uLocate’s Where application and SkyHook Wireless that are attempting to bridge that gap by offering a platform that will sit between carriers and smaller developers. For example, uLocate has signed a deal with Sprint (s s) to act as the LBS platform for its WiMAX network. Smaller developers can sign on through Where and get access to WiMAX subscribers without worrying about working with Sprint (s S) or getting the location information form a provider. I suppose since we’ve waited this long for LBS, most of us can wait a little longer.

image courtesy of Where

7 Responses to “LBS: A Dream Continually Deferred”

  1. Mark Aitken

    I know television broadcasters are working towards this. As part of the ongoing efforts to develop a “Mobile DTV” capability, companies such as Rosum ( have been involved and provided guidance wrt getting the location piece done (outside of GPS, using the emission of broadcast DTV stations). Location piece done…

    I would argue that there are a number of different ways to provide the understanding of what location information means in a sensible way. That piece is done…

    You want cooperation? Broadcasters have relationships with their ‘ad partners’, and they are the very folks hoping these capabilities come about…I would venture a guess that that piece is under discussion and awaiting market (and Mobile DTV standards) maturity, but it could well happen faster than one thinks today…

    Just a few thoughts on the matter…

  2. David Phipps

    Sounds a lot like what Autodesk Location Services has at Verizon – all LBS developers have to use Autodesk’s Brew, Windows Mobile and J2ME libraries, as well as using their online SOAP/REST APIs to build LBS apps, but they get the guarantee they’ll work on all handsets.

    The real block to LBS is cost – GPS locates cost a fair amount, due to hardware costs (the PDE, LDAP, privacy layers). Devs get charged up to $1 per locate, while real costs run between 10 and 25 cents. Oh, and 30% of the time GPS locates fail, such as when you’re in a building.

    Those costs have to come down, a lot, to have viable business models. Geo apps started taking off when costs fell below one cent per request.