Hampered by the lack of killer applications and primitive handheld hardware, location-based services did not take off as predicted during the technology boom of the late 1990s. However, requirements by U.S. and European governments to satisfy Enhanced 911 regulations have acted as a catalyst for increased commercial support.
LBS (location-based services) applications have the potential to, among other things, create efficiencies within the supply chain, track corporate assets and enable emergency service workers to locate victims. LBS platforms use location-sensitive technology such as GPS (Global Positioning System) or network-based solutions to deliver services or applications.
The major players in the LBS space include Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc., Autodesk Inc., MapInfo Corp. and Intergraph Corp. Microsoft Corp. is also gaining ground in the marketplace with its MapPoint platform.
All these vendors participate in the Open GIS Consortium, a standards body for geographic information systems that is working on the development of the OpenLS (Open Location Services) specification.
Worldwide revenue from LBS is expected to increase to more than $3.6 billion by 2010, from $500 million today, according to technology research company ABI Research, in Oyster Bay, N.Y.
Commercial applications are already beginning to appear. Just last month, Microsoft and two European mobile phone operators announced plans to deliver real-time LBS platforms that will allow enterprises to deploy business applications that can track assets for a mobile work force. Dispatchers for taxis and delivery services, for example, will be able to use the technology to track drivers carrying cell phones and direct them along the most expedient routes.
In the United States, mobile phone operator Verizon Wireless Messaging Services LLC is using the LocationLogic software platform from Autodesk to build applications that will enable its cell phone customers to receive personalized traffic information based on their location. LocationLogic is essentially middleware that provides content-processing capabilities and offers tools and services to help deliver applications to a handset or other portable device.
LBS systems are also taking off within enterprises. At the Bay Area Rapid Transit District in the San Francisco Bay area, for example, LBS is being used by BART Police Department dispatchers to route officers efficiently to emergency situations .
One big concern with LBS usage is privacy. Efficiencies gained through LBS may be offset by a work force that takes issue with being constantly "watched."
AT&T Wireless Services Inc. allows its cell phone subscribers to opt out of LBS capabilities that enable a user to determine the location of a colleague or business.
For most enterprises deploying LBS to their employees, however, the situation is different.
Enterprises generally have a right to know where their mobile workers are during working hours, but its also important to address the privacy concerns of those employees.
Organizations that utilize LBS should develop policies that dictate how mobile location information will be used and when an end users location can and will be tracked by his or her employer.
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.