GIS Tech News #3

7 Mar, 2005 By: Arnie Williams

Cadalyst GIS Tech News
Cadalyst GIS Tech News
#3      March 8 , 2005


Location-Based Services

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Location-Based Services

Technologies flourish in Europe and Asia-Pacific.
Can the U.S. catch up?

In the first two issues of GIS Tech News (click here for archives), we highlighted some GIS services that focus on disaster mapping and recovery. With the Asian tsunami disaster fresh in our minds, it seemed fitting to explore some of the mapping and research resources the GIS industry has brought to bear on anticipating and dealing with global natural disasters.

One aspect of GIS that derives from the depth and breadth of today's mapping data is LBS (location-based services), which has gained prominence in the past few years. This broad range of GIS-related data can be as mundane as the mapped location of a movie theater or restaurant sent to a cell phone, the correct route for a delivery sent to a truck-based receiver or the routing of 911 emergency response into rural areas.

For obvious reasons, mobile phone carriers are interested in LBS data as a value-added service to attract customers, and in Europe and Asia/Pacific such LBS add-ons are in high demand. The reason carriers have been able to provide these add-ons is that Europe and Asia/Pacific follow one wireless communications standard — GSM. That stands for Global System for Mobile Communications and refers to the radio transmission methods that have been most widely adopted in the region.

In the United States, on the other hand, some carriers use GSM while others use CDMA, or Code Division Multiple Access. The two systems are not compatible, and the failure to adopt one communications standard has put the United States behind Europe and Asia/Pacific in taking advantage of LBS with mobile devices.

From SMS to Geospatial Nirvana
When wireless carriers began adding SMS (short messaging service) a few years ago, the demand skyrocketed. More than 200 billion SMS messages were generated in its first year worldwide. This wireless equivalent of instant messaging pointed to a market with relatively untapped potential — bringing sophisticated LBS data to the consumer, government and commercial markets.

The potential of this new market bonanza wasn't lost on the traditional geospatial information providers familiar to everyone. In fact, Autodesk took the head of its Geographic Information Systems division, Joe Astroth, who had spearheaded the development of Autodesk Map and Mapguide server technology, and named him director of Autodesk Location Services in 2002. His task was to develop a middleware platform to market to mobile carriers as well as developing content and applications the carriers could use to provide LBS data.

Now part of a group renamed from GIS to the Autodesk Infrastructure Solutions Division, Autodesk Location Services has developed its middleware platform, called LocationLogic, and a suite of applications that includes Business Connect, Entertainment Connect, Directions Connect, Friend Connect and Traffic Connect. It has attracted some heavyweight customers to establish a firm position in a burgeoning market in Europe and Asia/Pacific. For example, Ericsson, headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, and the largest provider of mobile systems in the world, uses Autodesk LocationLogic and a location-enabled SMS for its customers.

Another Autodesk customer, Telecom Italia Mobile, based in Rome, Italy, has more than 43 million subscribers worldwide. The company recently used Autodesk LocationLogic and Traffic Connect to provide its subscribers with up-to-the-minute traffic reports via WAP (wireless application protocol) and SMS.

Both Autodesk customers have reported increased network use and customer loyalty as a result of the added services.

Adding Intelligence to Location
Intergraph, with its historical affiliation with government and telecom organizations, has also moved into the LBS arena. Whether you're a consumer interested in traffic updates to pick the most efficient route to work, or a mobile worker who needs data from the corporate database to complete a field assignment efficiently, or a supervisor assigning priority work to crew members based on nearest location, Intergraph's IntelliWhere LBS technology has been designed to meet a variety of needs.

A key part of Intergraph's LBS strategy is its IntelliWhere OnDemand technology that allows a company to extract key asset-management and GIS data from its corporate databases for use in the field. The company recently teamed with Trimble Navigation to provide IntelliWhere OnDemand with Trimble's GeoExplorer Series handhelds. These GPS devices allow field crews to access and update corporate geospatial and asset data based on accurate GPS technology.

It should come as no surprise that ESRI, whose sole focus is GIS technology, should also be a key player in LBS services. Some of its technologies — ArcWeb Services, ArcIMS Route Server, and ArcLogistics Route — have already taken hold in Europe for a solid stake in the LBS market. Orange Slovensko, of Slovakia, for example, uses ArcIMS and ArcSDE to power a suite of LBS and tracking services. Mobile users access these services through subscriber portals and mobile Internet to find nearby ATMs, hotels, gas stations, restaurants, hospitals and friends. The services can also be used by companies for data exchange with mobile field workers.

Another customer, VIPnet in Croatia, used ESRI LBS technology to create an Internet mapping and spatial database for 34 major cities with more than 270,000 addresses and more than 7,000 settlements. VIPnet used ArcSDE to build the database and ArcIMS to allow subscribers to retrieve information about the locations of restaurants, banks, post offices and other points of interest.

Another ESRI customer, Cloudberry, uses LBS technology for its AVL (automatic vehicle location) tracking and mobile dispatching applications. AirTrak for Nextel, Cloudberry's dispatching application, allows enterprises and governments of all sizes to track and communicate with fleets from any desktop PC with an Internet connection.

What About the United States?
U.S. carriers don't have much of a choice if they don't want to be left behind their European and Asia/Pacific competition in terms of providing LBS to subscribers. Today the conflicting-standards barrier still exists, limiting carriers to providing regional services only. However, the solidification of carriers in the market through the aggressive acquisitions that have been occurring this past year may prove significant in bringing the United States closer to a single standard protocol for communications. Not so long ago, Cingular announced a plan to spend more than $5 billion over the next several years to upgrade its networks and make them GSM. Verizon recently announced similar upgrade plans.

The widespread use throughout the world of mobile phone technology has done more to bring GIS into the hands of everyday users than any previous technology development. Stand by for more — this is just the beginning. Europe and Asia/Pacific may have a head start, but the United States will no doubt move at a rapid pace as communication standards are established and followed.

Upcoming GIS Events
Cadalyst's full calendar of events is available at

CTIA Wireless 2005
March 14-16, 2005
Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans, Louisiana
Convention and exposition addresses all aspects of wireless technologies.

Arnie Williams, former editor-in-chief of CADENCE magazine, is a freelance author specializing in the CAD industry. E-mail Arnie at

View current and past issues of GIS Tech Trends online at

Spatial Technologies: Making GIS information accessible via the Web cuts software and training costs and increases the potential audience you can reach

On the Job: Etowah County, Alabama, calls on Pictometry?s digital imaging and software for planning, 911, law enforcement and much more

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