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Global Positioning Without GPS

Date:2009-12-24  [ Print ]  Hits:
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Software startup GloPos' new technology allows cell phones to determine location with better accuracy than GPS. It could signal a revolution in location-based service

What if virtually every cellular handset on the planet enjoyed accurate location awareness? That's the question I pondered after meeting with GloPos, a startup that's about to leave stealth mode whose self-learning software algorithm enables any basic GSM or CDMA cellular phone to provide extremely precise locational data without using GPS—or even Wi-Fi, for that matter. The patent-pending technology offers positioning to within 1 to 40 meters, including indoor and underground locations.

Think about it—your old RAZR from 2005 suddenly gains precise location awareness that rivals or beats the location fixes from a high-end smartphone of 2009. With near-global handset support, and no additional radios required, GloPos could effectively commoditize location.

Location fixes by cellular triangulation are nothing new, of course, but they've never been as accurate as GPS. Until now. GloPos' "secret sauce" is in its location algorithm, which sends small amounts of data—as little as 100Kb—from a standard phone to a server that returns a precise location within milliseconds.

GloPos is run by Mikael Vainio and Alexander Le Bell, who together have more than two decades of mobile experience with Nokia and Ericsson. They founded GloPos in March of this year by spinning it off from 4TS, a Finland-based company that offers location and sensor technologies for the logistics and shipping industries. 4TS is a major shareholder of GloPos, but the company is funded by an angel investor. Vainio and Le Bell currently outsource technical support and R&D to 4TS; they plan to expand the executive team within weeks.

Target Market: Legacy Handsets

GloPos has a placeholder Web site up, but details of its location solution won't be live there until next week. After that launches, we should hear more about the company's business model plans. Its technology has obvious advertising possibilities, or it could be that GloPos licenses it to carriers and handset makers. Or perhaps it will offer the service to consumers directly. That possibility—and the fact that I met with Vainio and Le Bell in San Francisco, aka the unofficial iPhone capital—led me to ask about getting their software onto that device. After all, any software in the App Store goes through Apple's direct and/or AT&T's indirect scrutiny.

While Vainio sees an opportunity there, iPhone sales are a drop in the bucket when compared to the global handset market as a whole. Remember, there's no need to have GPS or Wi-Fi radios for the GloPos solution, so practically any and every handset can leverage it. Still, he hasn't lost sight of the iPhone platform. "There are over 2,500 location-based apps in the App Store," he noted, so if GloPos could make an inroad with the platform, every one of those apps could leverage the more accurate position fix using nothing more than a device's cellular radio.

We already know that location-based systems are the future. But while some think the way to get there is by adding radios to new hardware, the team at GloPos believes it's by combining intelligent software with legacy handsets. They may be right.

By Kevin Tofel

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