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Published on July 22nd, 2010 | by Babar Bhatti


A look at the Technology behind Location Data

As location based services become mainstream, the demand for accurate location data has grown. Various companies provide this data, using a combination of approaches. The software is sold to cell phone companies on a per-device basis and other mobile connected devices, thus enabling applications such as Foursquare to build location based services.

Cellphones typically determine location through analyzing a mix of wireless signals from GPS, cell towers and Wi-Fi hotspots. GPS signals are the most accurate, but they don’t work well indoors or in urban areas and take several minutes to retrieve. Cell tower signals are retrieved quickly, but the signals aren’t very accurate, since the towers can be spread miles apart.

Wi-Fi signals are considered the most valuable location data, since they work indoors and in urban areas, can be retrieved quickly and are accurate to within 20 or 30 meters. That level of precision is important to developers of mobile applications like maps and to advertisers, who hope one day to send coupons to customers when they walk by their stores.

Here’s how Skyhook location technology works.

How does it work?

Skyhook, which has been around for eight years, has been collecting Wi-Fi data for a longer time than Google, which only got started four years ago. Skyhook now claims its database covers 230 million access points. The company has already mapped much of the U.S. and Europe and is working on Asia, especially China. “We have 50 vans in China now,” Skyhook’s Mr. Morgan says.

Google’s efforts to gather Wi-Fi network data suffered a setback in May, when it admitted that it mistakenly collected private user data while mapping Wi-Fi networks and taking detailed street-level pictures as part its Street Views program. Google said it has stopped mapping Wi-Fi networks that way.

Via: WSJ

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