Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Navizon - The Ultimate Personal Navigation Companion?

The Navizon application is a mobile solution for those who suffer from GPS signal loss problems. This article looks at how Navizon works from both a technical and business model perspective. And right up front, I should let you know that I'm a fan.

Navizon provides consistent positioning information of 20-40m. As soon as a GPS signal drops out, Navizon makes use of Wi-Fi and/or cell tower triangulation (a wireless infrastructure that is dense in cities) to provide a continuous data feed. Navizon is a complementary as well as alternative positioning technology to GPS, especially in cases where GPS doesn't work, such as in cities or indoors. Navizon can also act as the virtual GPS for applications that are dependent on GPS, like TomTom, by leveraging Wi-Fi and cell tower triangulation.

Wi-Fi access points and cell towers give off a signal, just like a GPS satellite. Each Wi-Fi access point broadcasts a radio signal to announce its presence to devices within a range of approximately 100m. This signal incorporates a unique network address code that identifies the access point, which it transmits whenever it is on. Even if the signal is too weak for a mobile device to connect to, the device can still get the signal ID, which is stored in the Navizon's Network Database (NND). The signal ID is associated with map coordinates.

Innovation #1: Building the Wireless Coverage Map by Giving Rewards to the User

Navizon's innovation arises from the fact that its wireless coverage map is both created and constantly enhanced by the users themselves. This happens automatically without a user's intervention. Once installed on the user's device, the Navizon application automatically maps the local wireless landscape by calculating specific locations for all base stations in the area.

The catch is that only users with a GPS-enabled device are able to do the "war-driving" (wireless surveying). When GPS signals are available, the Navizon software uses them to construct a map of the wireless landscape composed of Wi-Fi access points and cell tower base stations. The NND is constructed by coordinating GPS data with signal triangulation of nearby base stations. Again, this is done without any effort by the users - all the users need to do is use Navizon for their individual purposes and sync once in a while with the NND server.

The Navizon Network community is growing rapidly, providing a critical mass of users contributing to the wide-area wireless coverage. Nevertheless, Cyril Houri of Mexens Technology (maker of Navizon) says that "like in every community, there are the people who do the work and others who benefit from it." For this reason, Navizon has introduced a new licensing model. Those users who don't contribute any data will have to pay $19.99 to use Navizon. The interesting part here is that the revenues earned from this program will be used to reward the users who do contribute to the wireless coverage map. Users who earn 10,000 points will be rewarded with $19.99 to their PayPal accounts. Users get 2 points for each Wi-Fi access point and 10 points for every cell tower mapped.

The NAVIZON Reward Program. Used with permission. (Click for larger image)

Users or hobbyists who have already mapped out a wireless area will also be rewarded for their data. This can apply to any user group, such as NYC Wireless, or hobbyists, like Christopher Schmidt of GSMloc.org. GSMloc has already mapped out 10197 cells (251224 points) for cell towers. There are also huge Wi-Fi access point repositories like WIGLE.net, which accounts for 7 million locations of access points. This reward system is especially attractive to fleets. Imagine each taxi driver driving around a city mapping the wireless coverage just by using the Navizon software on his GPS-enabled mobile device.

Unlike Skyhook Wireless, Navizon does not require field fleets equipped with GPS receivers and Wi-Fi scanners to do the "war-driving," which could imply higher costs. Also, map content companies like NAVTEQ or Tele Atlas or others might get into the business of mapping Wi-Fi access points or cell tower base stations as a point-of-interest (POI) category.

One perceived drawback of Wigle.net has been that there is no quality control with such user-contributed (open source) Wi-Fi war-driving. According to Jed Rice of Skyhook, "When you start with data that is collected using dozens of different methods by hundreds of different contributors who are left to randomly define their own collection process, you can't possibly build a reliable system or application on top of it. Organizations like Place Lab and Microsoft's Locate Me have discovered it the hard way - while it may work some of the times in some of the places and be 'good enough,' you can't then expect commercial organizations who are relying on a solution for their own service offering to use it."

It is true that the data in Wigle.net's Wi-Fi AP location repository can be very inaccurate because they will access all sorts of data collected with various hardware. They even access manually generated data which can create big inaccuracies. Navizon "only uses data that has been collected by its proprietary software so it controls how it is being calculated. Navizon also has a calibrating method that makes the data look the same on all devices," according to Houri.

A similar reward system will be introduced for the Navizon API for developers. The Navizon API provides the ability for developers to create customized location applications and solutions. These applications may be consumer focused or enterprise focused. "The API was identified as one of the top priorities for the developer community, so we're pleased to be able to satisfy the needs of the developers and other customers in providing this service," says Houri. The API will make available the positioning engine behind Navizon, allowing other applications to make use of its dynamic geo-positioning network.

Innovation #2: Navizon Developers are Independent of Telecom Operators

Navizon makes widespread LBS adoption more possible than ever - no reliance on telecom carriers or Wi-Fi network operators. There are no connection and operating system license fees; Navizon merely identifies the addresses of the Wi-Fi access points or cell towers without using the networks. Also, there is no carrier approval needed, no testing prior to launch required, no burden in achieving the "right" business model with the carriers, and no sharing of revenues. This way, developers are independent of third party constraints (e.g. buying additional hardware, requiring third party distribution, permission from carriers). And, Navizon is multi-carrier, as it is independent of handsets or network-based positioning technologies.

Concluding Remarks - Impact of Wi-Fi on the Telecom Industry
InStat predicts that shipments of Wi-Fi-enabled mobile phones will top 132 million by 2010. "Carriers have been reluctant to offer Wi-Fi-capable handsets for several reasons, but Wi-Fi has spread so fast that carriers will not be able to resist much longer," according to an In-Stat press release. Embracing Wi-Fi is becoming a competitive necessity among carriers; if they don't, other providers will likely lure away customers.

Already, more than 20 handset models have been released, or soon will be, with Wi-Fi connectivity built in. Some of those handsets also incorporate interfaces for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services like Skype. Carriers are responding by developing services that support voice calls over both cellular and Wi-Fi networks.

According to Insight Corp., Wi-Fi growth will not come at the expense of 2.5G, 3G, or private wireless networks. Wi-Fi's impact on telecommunications revenue, rather, will be multiplicative; creating bigger broadband networking opportunities for all participants.

Monday, August 7, 2006

WPI Precision Indoor Personnel Location and Tracking for Emergency Responders Workshop

First Annual Technology Workshop, August 7-8, 2006

Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA

Overview of Need and Current Status of LPS for Emergency Response
Kris Kolodziej

This Workshop provided a forum for researchers and developers working in the important area of indoor location and tracking of personnel to share technical knowledge and to define the state of the art. The focus was on the emergency response situation and zero pre-installed infrastructure tracking, that is systems that do not require any previously installed wiring or equipment in the target building, such as is required by RFID-type systems. Further, the focus was on systems which provide complete tracking and position information on all equipped personnel to the incident command post. Simpler approaches ("homing devices") were also included in the Workshop. Select representatives of the governmental and user communities participated in this workshop.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Location 2006 Conference – a Report from India

Early in June, I attended the India Location 2006 conference in Bangalore, India, the second annual international conference and exhibition in the field of positioning and navigation technologies. About 300 professionals gathered at this event to talk about the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), emerging trends in positioning technologies, and location intelligence – including LBS.

First a few words about India. India is called the “Crouching Tiger” for a very good reason - it is becoming a global competitor. India has the second fastest growing major economy in the world, with a GDP growth rate of 8.1% (China’s GDP is 10%). Goldman Sachs predicts that by 2020 India will have developed one of the world’s largest economies. The Indian economy is surging. Its gross domestic product has more than doubled in fifteen years, from $317 billion in 1990 to $650 billion in 2004. India currently commands 44% of the global market for IT and business process outsourcing off-shore. The (Internet) IT industry, which barely existed in 1991, now employs more than 1 million people and generated revenue of $36 billion in 2005 (expected to hit $56 billion in 2007.) India has a very high level of entrepreneurial activity (second highest in the world according to Babson’s Global Entrepreneurship Monitor). India has recently been prominent in the news as a provider of outsourcing services and software. It has the fastest growing market for telecom equipment. Moreover, India is the world’s most populous democracy, with 1.1 billion people, and still one of the poorest. But, India has 300 million new middle class consumers – that’s the size of the US or European market!

I had the privilege to present my book, Local Positioning Systems, and talk about positioning technologies both alternative and complimentary to GPS. These technologies include TV-positioning from Rosum (which works by means of triangulating signals from TV towers giving a 10m accuracy indoors and outdoors with the Rosum HPM) and Wi-Fi positioning, such as Mexens’ Navizon (which works by means of triangulating Wi-Fi + GSM/CDMA; GPS is optional). The figures below show that TV infrastructure is highly correlated with centers of population and commerce, both in the US and India.
Figure 1: 2800 TV towers in the US – 2001. (Source: Rosum) (Click for larger image)

Figure: 279 TV towers in India – 1998. (source: Rosum) (Note: TV tower locations overlap due to map scale. It should be noted that larger cities like Calcutta and Madras have 25 TV towers; Bombay 26 TV towers; Delhi 27 TV towers.) (Click for larger image)

Indian GPS and Telematics Market Overview
As of 2006, the global market for GPS devices is US $2.3 billion. Major players in the GPS industry include Rockwell, Trimble, Leica Geosystems, SiRF and CSI Wireless. GPS’ overall production value globally is expected to grow to more than $30 billion in 2008, up from $13 billion in 2003. The volume of the GPS market was assessed at $22 billion in 2005. In the US, the GPS chipset market is expected to grow to more than 200 million units per year by 2007.

The Indian market is now at $22 million, but there is potential for growth to $448 million in the next three to four years. GPS companies (both local and international) are competing to grab a piece of this Indian market, especially in logistics for tracking cargo and trucks across the country. Prices for GPS devices in India range from $232 to over $2,325. Garmin will bring its 35 different models of GPS devices to India, ranging from $813 for a basic model to $2,325 for a high-end model (route planning with voice prompts). Local company SatNav launched SatGuide, a car navigation device, and is hoping to sell 3,000 units in the first year. This Pocket PC-based device (costing $883) has maps for 10 major Indian cities. Other companies like Sun Micro Systems (India) are building prototypes to provide location-based services for mobile roaming users. Wipro has developed GPS applications for clients such as those in fleet management, location-based services and automatic driver assistance.

One of the highlights of the conference was the announcement that the Indian government has allocated $250 million for GPS activities and to launch eight or more satellites by 2009. Overall, India’s steps towards GPS presence include the following activities:
  1. GAGAN (for aviation navigation; there are 400 airports in India)
  2. GSAT
  3. Cooperation with GLONASS
  4. Participating in Galileo (the U.S. maintains that the equipment manufacturers need to participate freely in the market)
  5. Development of a down stream and value added industry (i.e., development of receivers, software, etc.)
  6. Indo-US initiatives such as:
    1. Joint development partnership for precision receivers
    2. Promoting growth of domestic LBS market
    3. Developing sensitivity and knowledge based on interference to signals
Nonetheless, there is great disparity between the size of the GPS market in India and those in western countries. While many western countries are already in the saturation stage, India is still in the introductory stage. India has its own technology to launch its own satellites but it has not made an effort sufficient to create awareness about the use of GPS in day-to-day activities. As a result, a vast market remains untapped. Additionally, high GPS hardware costs have resulted in the overall high prices of GPS for the average Indian citizen. Hardware companies need to make their products available locally. The Indian government’s positive support for the private GPS vendors is helping building a healthy competition in this field. And, free GIS map datasets should be readily available, as they are in more developed countries.

The Indian telematics market is also in an introductory stage. System integrators have been offering vehicle tracking and fleet management systems since 2001. During 2004, demand for these systems increased, largely due to purchases by logistics companies and other fleet operators. In 2005, navigation systems were launched in India for the first time by system integrators. The vehicle tracking segment of the Indian telematics market is expected to reach around $35 million between 2008 and 2009. To support telematics growth in India the government needs to decrease the restrictions on the availability of digital maps for commercial usage. Global companies are working with Indian companies by outsourcing their requirements for developing GPS components, embedded software and other telematics-related systems and designs. SiRF has acquired ImpulseSoft in a cash-and-stock deal worth Rs 67.5 crore (or $675 million). ImpulseSoft provides Bluetooth solutions for the automotive and consumer market in India. SiRF also has a new development center in India, built in 2004, which produces technical collateral and reference designs to accelerate time to market for customers, and funds research in location technology at Indian educational and research institutions.

GPS Phone Cost in India
This topic created a hot debate during one of the panel sessions. The question was asked (by the ministry of communication), why GPS-enabled cell phones are so expensive in India, with the result that the general public cannot afford them. A phone in India costs $20. A GPS phone costs $40 extra, for a total of $60. This extra cost prevents GPS-enabled phones from penetrating the Indian market. (US reference: $5 to $10 extra for GPS chip for phones.) Taxes and duties in India add about 65% to the landed cost. Moreover, the cost of transportation/marketing increases when the product comes to India from abroad. So the end user has to pay a very high price compared with his U.S. counterpart. Plus, every GPS import needs a license from the Indian government. These licenses are obtained by the vendors on behalf of the user. This is a cumbersome process and takes at least 2 to 4 months or more. This also helps to further escalate the cost of GPS indirectly. Nevertheless, the GPS vendors in India understand that they need to provide simple, low cost and reliable GPS solutions in order to penetrate the market.

The panel was composed of GPS/Gailelo experts and advocates who continually praised GPS. Also on the panel were executives from companies like NavCom, who praised their own StarFire GPS ground-based augmentation product’s 1-2cm positioning accuracy (the cost of the StarFire system was not disclosed). It was interesting to hear a comment from the audience addressed to the panel, saying that the 1-2m accuracy that comes with the expensive GPS augmentation equipment is highly specialized and does not apply to the cell phone market.

Also of note - A-GPS service is non-existent in countries like India. India could use an E911-/E112-like mandate from the government, which proved to be so effective in the US and Europe, that would grow the positioning infrastructure.

The Future with Galileo and other GNSS systems
The conference had a heavy focus on GNSS and GPS technologies. New satellite navigation systems - the European Union’s Galileo, Russia’s GLONASS, Japan’s Quasi-Zenith Satellite System, and China’s Twinstar - are going up. The speakers talked about the use of GNSS and of various augmentation systems in use and those which are being planned. One of the main goals of the community is GPS and Galileo interoperability, which is expected to happen thanks to Galileo’s E5a signal complementing the L1 signal of the GPS. Also, it is imperative that there must be a Galileo standard for use with mobile phone services (GSM & CDMA technology).

The range of Galileo services is designed to meet practical objectives and expectations, improving the coverage of open access services in urban environments (to cover 95% of urban districts compared with the 50% currently covered by GPS alone). In the GPS/Galileo/GNSS system there will be 56-60 satellites present, so the availability of the signal will be better, as compared to the signals of a single system. Devices which will make use of both GPS and Galileo (probably not cell phones due to chip cost) are expected to improve positioning accuracy up to 10 cm.

Relating to indoor coverage, the Galileo E5a signal is expected to allow better acquisition and tracking performance. Better signal availability for indoor applications can be achieved by the augmentation (which is somewhat expensive) of locally generated signals with the satellite signals. These local signals will provide additional performance in terms of accuracy, availability, continuity and integrity. Also, the presence of local pseudolites will enhance vertical accuracy in indoor positioning. Pseudolites are hi-performance products for professional use and could not, generally, be affordable for end-user market penetration.

GPS pseudolites and augmentation solutions tend to be very specialized and expensive, something not applicable to the LBS cell phone market. However, this is an area that needs further investigation. Some pseudolite-based navigation systems activities include the following:

  1. Presently USA, Japan, Australia, Germany, China and Canada are involved in the development of pseudolite-based navigation systems.
  2. Japan has been investigating an airship system for applications such as environmental monitoring, communication and broadcasting.
  3. In India, IIT- Bombay, Osmania University and DRDO have been working in this area.
Regarding the cost of E5a, no one was qualified to comment. But if there are large numbers of applications in huge countries like India or China that use the E5a signal, the cost would drastically be reduced.

The GPS and telematics market in India are in an introductory stage, but are developing rapidly owing to an increased use of the technology in fleet management, transport navigational systems, and other areas. In India, system integrators have been offering vehicle tracking and fleet management systems since 2001. Similarly, personal GPS navigation guides have been offered since 2001, starting with GPS India’s iQue 3600 PDA for about $1,500. During 2004, demand for the vehicle tracking systems increased, largely due to purchases by logistics companies and other fleet operators.

According to Frost & Sullivan, vehicle tracking systems sales in India are expected to increase with growing awareness, exponential growth in new commercial vehicle sales, and penetration into the market. The vehicle tracking segment of the Indian telematics market is expected to reach around $35 million between 2008 and 2009.

India has long supplied hardware and software engineers to U.S. industry. Now the country has taken an active partner role in Europe's GALILEO navsat program, not to mention the development of its own satellite system. Watch out for the “Crouching Tiger” - it is set to pounce!