How location-based services will shape future cities and save many lives

A matter of life or death

The latest advancements in location-based services (LBS) are bringing about major improvements in accuracy, reliability and the services that can be delivered. Due to these advances, LBS are increasingly being deployed in mission-critical applications such as guiding emergency services directly to a caller.

Yet it's the huge range of potential commercial applications that may boost mobile operators' revenues. With the ever increasing threat from 'Over-the-Top' (OTT) services, operators have been looking at new ways to generate income from their pre-existing network infrastructure. LBS may be just the answer.

Despite being the gold-standard for LBS, Satellite Navigation (GNSS) has always had problems in both built-up areas and indoor environments. Suffering from accuracy problems caused by surface reflections and poor line of sight, GNSS solutions such as GPS have never been perfect. In addition, combined with an often high battery drain, there is plenty of space for the future growth of new solutions.

Hybrid location technologies

One such new solution is SIM-based LBS. This is a residential applet in a SIM card that is used to estimate the most probable location of a mobile device. The advantage of this over a GNSS solution is greatly improved accuracy in both indoor and urban environments and unaffected battery life, as there is no need for an additional GNSS transceiver.

Moreover, as an applet it can be inserted into almost any SIM card, so is deployable for both smartphones, feature phones, and is ready for Machine-to-Machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

The current increase in data usage means that operators are deploying more cell sites. Femtocells in particular mean that there are an increased number of wireless access points – both indoors and outdoors. This plays a major role in bringing SIM-based LBS and hybrid solution accuracy up to that of GNSS solutions, for both indoor and outdoor environments.

Further helping to future-proof this technology will be initiatives like the GSMA's OneAPI. With the aim of increasing the adoption of SIM-based applets, GSMA's OneAPI allows devices to be tracked through different countries and over multiple spectrums.

Geo-fenced smart cities

Aside from being technologically superior to previous solutions, SIM-based LBS will bring about some significant real world changes. Businesses such as logistics companies, public transport operators and credit card companies (combating fraud) will be able to make use of improved geo-fenced location data to advance their services.

And this is just the beginning. In the increasingly connected world of IoT and M2M, the technology is expected to play a major role in the development and running of Smart Cities. For example, governments and local authorities will soon be able to use LBS to help generate a real-time heat map that shows the population of a city over the course of a day. Such information will be invaluable when it comes to designing new roads and streets.

Security will also stand to benefit. With the current setup and monitoring systems in place it takes not only considerable amounts of money and resources to track potential security threats, but time as well. In the future accurate tracking solutions will reduce the costs involved, allowing the security services to better allocate their time to other investigations. In addition, because these solutions run on a SIM card they are extremely difficult to tamper with or adjust, further increasing their reliability.

And if a natural disaster strikes, emergency services can use a combination of hybrid solutions and GNSS to help find, locate and rescue survivors. When time is crucial, rescuers can use solutions such as SIM-based LBS to find and locate people even when they are inside buildings or safely protected within cellars.

Location 2025

The next decade is going to see a major shift in location-based technology. With data usage growing, and ever higher speeds demanded, networks will continue to increase their cell site density. The knock-on effect of this will be that the accuracy offered by SIM-based LBS dramatically increases.

In the future, location-based services from MNOs will be at the same level as GPS, but with the added benefit of working for both indoor and outdoor environments. This will not only be good news for the enterprise, which can deploy solutions to increase efficiencies and generate income, but also for governments and emergency services to help save lives.

The future of location-based services stands to influence all of our lives. This is only the start.