We Need Another Location Technology Like We Need Another Social Network

Rosum, a company that offers a way to use broadcast TV signals to derive location, today said its technology will be used (PDF) in a new chip from mobile TV chip maker Siano. The Alloy chip is aimed at providing location and timing information for femtocells, people and inventory tracking, and local ads via mobile TV. I think it’s an idea that’s doomed to fail because the overall market is too small.

Rosum has been selling the idea of using broadcast TV to determine location for a while. But we already have two methods of measuring location — GPS, which uses a satellite signal and a database, and Wi-Fi triangulation as used by Skyhook. Do we really need a third?

Wi-Fi location information is faster and works better in urban areas where GPS signals have a hard time penetrating. GPS works where there are no Wi-Fi networks, such as in rural areas or along highways. So what does Rosum’s broadcast TV solution have to offer? Rosum says it’s for areas where Wi-Fi networks aren’t able to penetrate, such as deep inside buildings, or where there are a lot of networks that may confuse location, such as in highly urban areas. However, Wi-Fi still seems to work well even in those situations.

There’s also the issue of putting a separate broadcast TV chip inside a device. Wi-Fi chips are already embedded in many handsets and devices, and provide a primary function outside of delivering location. GPS chips are also becoming more common for mobile devices that don’t have Wi-Fi, or that offer navigation. However for many devices, using Wi-Fi alone will suffice.

But Rosum’s primary function is location, and relies on grabbing broadcast TV signals.
So to take advantage of the Rosum solution, a device would have to need a broadcast television signal and not need Wi-Fi or GPS. How often does this happen? I can’t think of a reason to add a broadcast TV signal-detecting chip to a femotcell, but I can see a reason to add Wi-Fi. I can see Rosum winning customers among device-makers wanting to add location to the mobile televisions that will use the Open Mobile Video Coalition’s standard for mobile TV, but that’s a young and small market.

For now, I’m highly skeptical as to Rosum’s chances for making broadcast signals a third source of location information. Yes, location is hot, but between Wi-Fi and GPS, broadcast TV looks more like a third wheel.

Related GigaOM Pro Content (sub. req’d):

Location: The Epicenter of Mobile Innovation

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