Where In The World Are You?

At the beginning of every new year, the buzz ramps up about everything gizmo, gadget, and mobile at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).  CES brings the best of what’s new in the world of consumer tech and Wi-Fi has clearly taken center stage in many of the products and services on display.  Among the many exhibitors at this year’s CES was the Wifi Alliance.  The Wifi Alliance is a non-profit organization founded in 1999 by a group of visionary leaders with the goal of driving the adoption of high-speed wireless local area networking.

Much of the seamless access and high-capacity throughput we enjoy in airport Wi-Fi solutions, convention Wi-Fi solutions, stadium Wi-Fi solutions and other Wifi solutions for densely populated environments is a direct result of efforts by the Wi-Fi Alliance.  In a recent article by PC Magazine,

Wireless mobility is undeniably the “killer app” for social media.  No other technology has done as much to enable the anywhere, anytime availability that gives social media such real-time presence.  But social media and its related applications are beginning to move beyond mere availability to a true sense of presence by adding a spatial dimension to the conversation.  That dimension, specifically location, brings a broader, richer and much more personal on-line experience.

Knowing your specific location along with that of your friends and colleagues enables you to discover what’s around you, hook up and navigate more easily and effectively.  Location awareness also speeds and enhances your search for goods and services close to your present location and can be a life saver when seeking emergency assistance.  The addition of a location dimension to our wireless mobile communications is rapidly changing the face of universal mobile connectivity, dramatically affecting how we live, work and play.

So, how exactly does this happen?  Not every wireless device is equipped with GPS.  Also, a fairly unobstructed view of the sky is required for GPS to function properly.  This is certainly not always the case with mobile devices as more time is likely spent indoors at the office or at home, or roaming the concrete canyons of metropolitan areas.  At the forefront of delivering a comprehensive wireless mobile location solution is Skyhook Wireless, a Boston-based company that has developed a technology for determining geographical location using Wi-Fi as the underlying reference system.

Using the MAC addresses of nearby wireless access points coupled with proprietary algorithms, Skyhook’s Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS) can determine the position of a mobile device within 10–20 meters.  It provides service similar to GPS without relying on GPS hardware but can also integrate with GPS-enabled devices to provide hybrid positioning.  Skyhook Wireless claims sub-second time-to-first-fix with 10–20 meter accuracy and near 100% availability indoors and in dense urban areas.  Skyhook’s database is gathered through “wardriving” and includes more than 250 million Wi-Fi access points covering 70 percent of population centers in the United States, Canada, Western Europe and selected Asian countries.

But there are potential drawbacks. The service is dependent on a dense deployment of Wi-Fi. So the technology is inherently better suited for urban areas than sparsely populated rural areas where Wi-Fi is not deployed at all or where access points are deployed too far apart from each other.  Also, some Wi-Fi Internet providers and critics point out that Wi-Fi routers do not necessarily stay in one position forever like satellites or cell towers do. People often move and take their Wi-Fi routers with them.  However, Skyhook’s software is able to detect when a Wi-Fi access point has been moved and makes note of the change in its database.  In addition, the company plans to update the database annually, taking to the streets repeatedly to search for new Wi-Fi signals.

To learn more about wireless location and Skyhook, check out http://www.skyhookwireless.com

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