A location-based service (LBS) is an information or entertainment service, which utilizes the ability to track and make use of the geographical position of a mobile device through a mobile network.

LBS can be used in a variety of contexts to identify the location of an individual person or object, and help users find the nearest banking cash machine or the whereabouts of a friend or employee. It can also support parcel and vehicle tracking services or mobile commerce when coupons or advertising is directed at customers based on their current location. Personalized weather services and even location-based games can be delivered by LBS.

Research forerunners of today's location-based services were the infrared Active Badge system (1989–1993), Microsoft's Wi-Fi-based indoor location system RADAR (2000), MIT's Cricket Project using ultrasound location (2000) and Intel's Place Lab with wide-area location (2003).

The first consumer LBS-capable mobile web device was the Palm VII which was released in 1999. Two applications made use of ZIP code-level positioning and also share joint first place as a consumer LBS application: the Weather.com app from The Weather Channel, and the Traffic Touch app from Sony-Etak/Metro Traffic.

The first LBS service, friendZone, was launched by Swisscom in May 2001, based on Valis Ltd. technology. The service included friend finder, LBS dating and LBS games. The same service was later launched by Vodafone Germany, Orange Portugal and Pelephone in Israel.

The first commercial LBS service in Japan was launched by DoCoMo, in July 2001, based on triangulation for pre-GPS handsets, and by KDDI for the first mobile phones equipped with GPS in December 2001.

LBS was developed by mobile carriers in partnership with mobile content providers. The main advantage is that mobile users do not have to manually specify a ZIP/Postal Code or other location identifier when they roam into a different location. GPS tracking is the key component to ensure access to mobile web. GPS is based on the concept of trilateration, a basic geometric principle that allows finding one location if one knows its distance from other, already known locations.

GSM localization is the second option. Finding the location of a mobile device in relation to its cell site is another way to find the location of an object or a person. This relies on various means of signal multilateration to find the device’s geographical position various techniques like time difference of arrival (TDOA) or Enhanced Observed Time Difference (E-OTD).

Another example is Near LBS (NLBS), in which local-range technologies such as Bluetooth, WLAN, infrared and/or RFID/Near Field Communication technologies are used to match devices to nearby services. This application allows a person to access information based on their surroundings; and is especially suitable for use inside closed premises or restricted areas.

One additional alternative is an operator- and GPS-independent location service based on access to the telecoms network (SS7). This enables accurate and quick determination of geographical coordinates of mobile phone numbers by providing operator-independent location data and also works with non-GPS enabled handsets.

Many other Local Positioning Systems are available, especially for indoor use. GPS and GSM do not work very well indoors, so other techniques are used, including Bluetooth, UWB, RFID and Wi-Fi.

Requirements and Usage

In order to provide a successful LBS technology the following factors must be met:

  • Coordinate accuracy requirements are determined by the relevant service;
  • Lowest possible cost;
  • Minimal impact on network and equipment.

Some examples of location-based services are:

  • Recommending social events in a city.
  • Requesting the nearest business or service, such as an ATM or restaurant.
  • Turn by turn navigation to any address.
  • Locating people on a map displayed on the mobile phone.
  • Receiving alerts, such as notification of a sale or warning of a traffic jam.
  • Location-based mobile advertising.
  • Asset recovery combined with active RFID to find, for example, stolen assets in containers where GPS would not work.
  • Games, where your daily movements make your avatar move in the game or your position unlocks content.
  • Real-time Q&A on restaurants, services, and other venues.

For the carrier, location-based services provide added value by enabling such services as:

  • Resource tracking with dynamic distribution. Taxis, service people, rental equipment, doctors, fleet scheduling.
  • Resource tracking of objects that do not have privacy controls, using passive sensors or RFID tags, such as packages or train boxcars.
  • Finding someone or something. Person by skill (doctor), business directory, navigation, weather, traffic, room schedules, stolen phone, emergency calls.
  • Proximity-based notification (push or pull). Targeted advertising, buddy list, common profile matching (dating), automatic airport check-in.
  • Proximity-based actuation (push or pull). Payment based upon proximity (EZ pass, toll watch).

Mobile messaging plays an essential role in LBS. SMS has been used in combination with various LBS applications, such as location-based mobile advertising. SMS is still the main channel to mobile phones for mobile advertising/marketing campaigns. A classic example of a LBS application using SMS is the delivery of mobile coupons or discounts to mobile subscribers who are near to advertising restaurants, cafes, or cinemas. The Singaporean mobile operator, M1 Limited, carried out such an initiative in 2007 that involved many local marketers and was reported to be a huge success in terms of subscriber acceptance.

Legal Issues

With the passing of the Can Spam Act in 2005, it became illegal in the United States to send any message to an end user without the end user specifically opting-in. This put an additional challenge on LBS applications as far as 'carrier-centric' services are concerned. As a result, there has been a focus on user-centric location-based services and applications which give the user control of the experience, typically by opting in first via a website or mobile interface (such as SMS, mobile Web, and Java/BREW applications).

The European Union also provides a legal framework for data protection that may be applied for location-based services and more particularly several European directives such as:

  1. Personal data: Directive 95/46/EC;
  2. Personal data in electronic communications: Directive 2002/58/EC;
  3. Data Retention: Directive 2006/24/EC.

The applicability of legal provisions to varying forms of LBS and of processing location data is still unclear.

One implication of this technology is that data about a subscriber's location and historical movements is owned and controlled by the network operators, including mobile carriers and mobile content providers.

In addition to the legal framework there are several technical approaches to protect privacy using privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs). They range from simplistic on/off switches to sophisticated PETs using anonymization techniques, e.g., related to k-anonymity. Today, only a few LBS systems offer such PETs, e.g., Google Latitude offers an on/off switch and allows sticking one's position to a free definable location. It is an open question how users perceive and trust the different PETs.

Source: Wikipedia