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Blog Post

Up the M2M Value Chain – Location Based Services (LBS)

Posted by Chuck Horne on 06/23/2011

M2M wireless network service providers need to continue to innovate and demonstrate to their customers – the M2M solution providers selling into enterprise end-users – that they are approaching the relationship as a legitimate partnership, rather than acting merely as a technology vendor.

The M2M service provider partner must help solution providers grow their businesses. A good network provider enables the addition of new revenue streams and provides access to tools and technology that reduce operational support costs associated with providing an M2M solution, network providers. For example, layering on location based services (LBS) and integrating them into the user interfaces and APIs of the service provider's business management platform arms solutions providers with value-added services that can now be offered to its customer base. A solution provider can now show the individual locations of every one of its customer's devices overlaid across a map with a date/time stamp, nearest street address, Lat-Lon and even the nearest cell tower.

What are location based services and why should you care?

Location based services enable a customer to see the location of its devices in real time and retrieve basic information such as whether the device is registered on the network as well as the history of recent data sessions. This valuable information enables the customer/end-user and the M2M solution provider to determine if the device is functioning as intended and its exact location. Should a service call – such as a hardware swap – becomes necessary, they have the means to quickly and accurately locate the device. Other benefits include being able to locate a device that is attached to an asset, should that asset go missing.

How does LBS work? Differences between GPS, AGPS and ECID

Location based services work using one or more of a combination of three technology protocols to determine a device's location. If the device has a GPS chip and has line of sight to the nearest navigation satellite, GPS provides the most accurate location – 15 to 100 feet. Should a pure GPS reckoning not be available due to atmospheric conditions or line of sight issues, Assisted GPS (AGPS) will be used, providing a hybrid of satellite and cell tower location based information, resulting in an accuracy of 15 to 50 feet. If a device does not have any type of GPS technology, then Enhanced Cell ID (ECID) will be used which will triangulate the location of the device according to the nearest cell towers and the relative signal strength between them. This method has an accuracy at 500 to 800 feet, although it can be less accurate in more rural areas where fewer cell towers exist.

What are the practical business applications for location based services?

First and foremost, LBS help M2M network service providers and their customers with advanced trouble-shooting capabilities. Knowing where a device is located, whether or not it is live on the network and information about the last completed data session is an invaluable tool when trouble is suspected. Reducing mean time to resolution for a problem, especially for mission critical applications such as fleet or asset tracking, saves valuable resources and reduces support costs.

Secondly, new business lines and incremental revenue streams can be realized using LBS creatively. For example, if a fleet management company can use LBS to track the location of the truck AND the driver (via his cell phone), service providers are able to charge a premium for this type of enhanced application when the vehicle's location just isn't enough.

A couple of things about LBS that you need to know:

  • LBS can enhance the stickiness of any M2M application, especially for highly mobile solutions. However, the technology does have limitations. If your device is roaming onto a non-native network, such as a rural carrier which has a roaming agreement with the carrier of record, LBS will not work. If the device is out of range of the cell network it will not work. LBS services, if using AGPS or ECID, will incur data usage charges. LBS queries also take a toll on the battery life of the devices in question. And, LBS queries do introduce latency in terms of their response times, in inverse with the accuracy of the location method deployed. For instance, the most accurate – GPS queries – due to satellite connectivity and latency issues, take longer (5-20 seconds). In contrast, ECID, while the least accurate from a location accuracy perspective, is the fastest in terms of response to a query (1-3 seconds of latency), with AGPS falling in between.
  • LBS are here to stay and the technology, accuracy and costs associated with offering them will continue to improve as long as companies find innovative ways to use them to improve operational efficiencies, increase revenue, or both.
By Chuck Horne, VP Product and Service Management
Chuck Horne currently serves as Vice President of Product and Service Management for KORE Telematics, an industry leader providing wireless M2M network services for enterprises and solution providers. Chuck is a senior marketing and product executive with over 30 years of strategic product management and business consulting experience in the wireless, internet, and telecommunications industry. In his current capacity, Chuck is responsible for product planning and management of KORE's wireless services portfolio.