Location-based services historically were built as stand-alone applications that didnt communicate easily with other applications and systems. Open standards, therefore, will be a necessary catalyst for LBS growth.
"Standards are always very important to us, for several reasons," said David Maguire, director of products at Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc., in Redlands, Calif. "Standards allow ESRI to leverage other peoples technology, such as the Java platform, in our products. They are also important because they allow our technology and products to integrate into IT infrastructure."
The impetus for LBS standards development stemmed from a need to satisfy Enhanced 911 requirements. The E911 service, promoted by the Federal Communications Commission, will make it possible for emergency service personnel answering a 911 cell phone call to locate, within 50 feet, the phone used to make the call.
Mobile phone carriers in the United States have until next year to enable E911, and the development of open LBS standards provides a basis for evolution toward commercial location services support.
More than 30 vendors—including ESRI, Autodesk Inc., MapInfo Corp., Oracle Corp. and Webraska Mobile Technologies S.A.—are working together through the Open GIS Consortium to develop the OpenLS (Open Location Services) specification.
OpenLS is significant because LBS solutions require multiple vendors and vendors of multiple kinds of products—including location technology, GISes (geographic information systems) and application development frameworks—to integrate with the telecommunications infrastructure of a wireless service provider.
Getting all these parties to work together has been difficult because carriers are forced to use expensive and proprietary software for integration. As standards that support interoperability through open interfaces and protocols emerge, interoperability will be much more seamless, Maguire said.
OpenLS (www.openls.org) is designed to support interoperable solutions that "geo-enable" the Internet, wireless and location-based services, and mainstream IT via XML and Web services. The specification defines routing, directory and gateway services, as well as presentation of, for example, map images and a location utility for geo-coding and reverse geo-coding.
The Open GIS Consortium ratified OpenLS 1.0 last year and is now working on Version 1.1, which is expected to be released next year. Will Wilbrink, chief solutions architect at MapInfo, in Troy, N.Y., and chairman of the consortiums OpenLS revision group, said Version 1.1 will include compliance testing scripts so companies can validate their servers against the specification.
Other standards bodies are also developing specifications for providing geographic and location information. For example, with the XML and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) standards playing such a large role in LBS interoperability, vendors are also working with OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) and the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) on the development of those standards.
In addition, vendors such as ESRI and Autodesk are working with ISO (International Organization for Standardization) on standards for navigation that Wilbrink said could eventually be merged with OpenLS.