Location-based services are important value-added capabilities for cellular service providers, and will be increasingly so for 4G LTE networks.
The recent hubbub about the iPhone (News - Alert) switch from Google Maps to its own maps service should give communications service providers pause and signal that location-based services matter.
Yet most mobile service providers (MSPs) have ceded location-based services to over-the-top (OTT) offerings by application and content providers (ACPs). This denies MSPs a revenue stream and keeps location-based services from a level of granularity that currently only can come from MSP-based solutions.
A recent blog by Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert), A Primer on Location Technologies in LTE Networks, highlights three critical steps MSPs must take to fully leverage the popularity of location-based services, especially as 4G LTE (News - Alert) deployments accelerate around the world.
Identify service requirements. Location-based services (LBS) can be targeted and individual users or aggregated user behavior that is valuable to businesses and ACPs. This can include:
- Regulatory-based applications such as emergency call services
- Consumer applications such as social networking
- Business applications such as fleet management
- Third-party applications for merchants or ACPs
- Network operator applications such as those that assist with detecting internal problems
Service needs might include providing the required degree of location accuracy, rapidity of response to a location request, scalability to support a large number of user locations, support for real-time, periodic or event-triggered location updates, ease of implementation, battery consumption for mobile devices, impact on network resources and differentiation of the network provider service from ACP offerings, according to the blog post.
“Because LBS have widely diverse requirements, MSPs must carefully identify and prioritize a particular service’s needs before choosing methods of gathering and delivering location information,” according to the Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) blog post.
Choose a method for determining location. Once a mobile operator has identified service requirements, they need to pick a location determination method. This can include Assisted Global Positioning System (AGPS), Cell ID (CID) based on eNode B, ECID, OTDOA or uplink time difference-of-arrival (UTDOA). This is where granularity requirements become an important factor.
Selecting a delivery method. Alcatel-Lucent notes that: “The LTE system provides several methods for delivering location information when it is determined…Each has certain capabilities, strengths and constraints. Thus they should be chosen to match the unique requirements of a specific service.”
User plane method, control plane method, network-provided (ULI) method and Home Subscriber Server (HSS) method are common ways to deliver location-based services over 4G LTE networks. Alcatel-Lucent also has a proprietary method, Per-call measurement data (PCMD), which near real-time location data along with other call/connection information that can be used for generating wireless heat maps, network planning and optimization, Minimizing Drive Tests (MDT) and more efficient mobile advertising.
The article provides good guidance on the steps mobile operators need to take, including strengths and weaknesses of various options, to fully leverage location-based services. The unspoken here is that to not be players in the offering of such services is to enable OTTs to continue to use MSP airwaves as wireless pipes. There is no reason to continue to allow the OTTs to capture the value-added part of this market uncontested, and MSPs with the rollout of 4G LTE have and opportunity to be meaningful players.
Edited by Peter Bernstein