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M2M LBS: The operator opportunity

Stevie Ooi, CEO of W-Locate

Guest post by Stevie Ooi, CEO of W-Locate.

Location-based services (LBS) have seen very quick adoption in a number of industries, none more so than in the retail and advertising sectors. In fact, Berg Insights predicts that by 2018 these two sectors alone will have created a $15 billion industry. Powering this new industry will be data provided by Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), such as GPS and GLONASS. Often seen as the gold standard for LBS, GNSS solutions are not without their problems especially for indoor and built-up environments.

As new industries like logistics and workforce management look to utilize Machine-to-Machine (M2M) LBS to improve efficiencies and reduce expenditure, new solutions that provide accurate indoor location data will become increasingly needed.

The current state of play for M2M LBS

GNSS solutions have already demonstrated their ability at providing accurate location data for not only location-based advertising, but also in sectors like telematics. In outdoor environments, GPS and the other major satellite-based systems are well established at providing location data, with accuracies down to just a few meters. So, when tracking vehicles like cars and trucks, GNSS is the right option.

However, GPS has been less successful when tracking workers or packages. Why? That’s because one of the main weaknesses of satellite systems is their reliance on a direct line of sight between a device and satellite. For indoor environments this is a major issue as accuracies can drop significantly, removing the value of having solutions installed in the first place. And, it is not just indoors that GPS has problems, as built-up areas can have accuracy issues thanks to the multipath problem. In this situation, signals from satellites are reflected by metal and glass surfaces, making the location appear to constantly shift. In M2M applications for logistics and workforce management, this can cause serious problems with strategic planning.

What workforce and logistics managers need are solutions that provide high levels of location accuracy in indoor, outdoor and built-up environments. For this to happen we will need to look beyond satellite-based systems and more towards mobile network operators (MNOs). With infrastructure already in place that not only cover most areas and travel through buildings and built-up areas with no degradation, operators have the building blocks needed to provide their LBS solutions.

Nonetheless, operators have been prevented from developing suitable services in the past by a lack of technology. It has been a chicken and egg problem. Operators have had the infrastructure in place for some time now, but did not have technology to bring location services to life. Previous attempts delivered limited services – but they lacked a web interface that is now required for M2M applications. So, for logistics and workforce managers to really benefit from M2M LBS, new technologies are needed.

SIM-based LBS

One such technology that is now arriving on the market is SIM-based LBS. These solutions enable MNOs to offer indoor, outdoor and built-up areas with accurate M2M location-based services. As the name suggests, these new technologies rely on data from cellular networks and SIM cards to offer accurate location predictions. Unlike previous location services from operators and GNSS, these new solutions have much higher levels of indoor and outdoor accuracy – with a deviation from a satellite point being as little as 6m in some cases.

What is more, SIM-based LBS solutions require less power than GNSS. This means that trackers can be developed which are much smaller, lighter and more energy efficient. Smaller and lighter trackers open up new possibilities on what packages can be tracked. In addition, not having a large and bulky GNSS transceiver also reduces the Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) needed to deploy these services.

SIM-based LBS does not need to stop at just simple tracking; operators can also use it to offer extra services like geo-fencing, curfews and SMS notifications. Designed with third-party APIs and GSMA’s OneAPI initiative in mind, SIM-based LBS solutions allow operators to offer tailor made products to the enterprise. By offering these extra services, operators can further increase their own revenues and target more business sectors.

The future

With SIM-based LBS, operators now have the opportunity to launch LBS solutions to bring M2M to life. With the ability to provide accurate indoor location data, it is not only workforce and logistics managers who will benefit. Retailers in malls for example can utilize SIM-based LBS to offer promotions to nearby customers, giving operators the chance to gain a slice of the $15 billion location-based advertising sector. The next few years will see a huge expansion in location-based services, and technologies like SIM-based LBS puts the carrier at the heart of this exciting new sector.

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