Skyhook Announces New Hybrid Positioning System

By Naomi Graychase

June 30, 2008

Skyhook Wireless today announced its new XPS 2.0 location system that uses Wi-Fi, GPS satellites, and cellular towers for greater coverage, faster results, and improved accuracy.

Skyhook Wireless, the Boston-based company that has mapped more than 23 million hotspots (and counting) to enable its unique Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS), today announced a new technology that leverages Wi-Fi access points, cellular towers, and GPS satellites to create even more precise and accessible data for mobile devices.

Dubbed XPS 2.0, this new hybrid location technology provides consumer-grade location both indoors and out, in urban and rural areas, more quickly than GPS or cellular solutions.

“We’re introducing our own cell tower positioning, as well as groundbreaking algorithms that combine GPS, cell, and Wi-Fi,” says Ted Morgan, Skyhook’s founder and CEO. “The big issue with consumer apps is response time. You want to get an answer in a few seconds. With GPS solutions, you have 30 to 60 seconds to wait; it’s annoying if you’re trying to find the nearest Starbucks, etc. With this, you get GPS-level accuracy in a couple of seconds. And with our Wi-Fi system, it works well indoors and in urban environments. GPS requires three or four satellites to know where you are, but you can get a lock on the first two satellites in a couple of seconds, and then mix it with Wi-Fi. By doing this, we can improve accuracy by 50% across the board and speed it up. You get the best of everything—coverage indoors, great location, accuracy—in a couple seconds.”

Morgan does not see his company as competing with other location systems. Rather, Skyhook has formed partnerships so it can combine forces with its would-be competitors in the location services market.

“There’s really no comparable system out there,” he says. “We’ve mostly competed against GPS companies inside device makers, but with our partnerships with Surf and CSR and others, we’re really integrating in with the GPS players not trying to compete against them anymore. We’ve got a whole series of patents awarded and on file around these techniques.”

Skyhook positions itself as the only company capable of providing the performance consumers are looking for in their devices.

“It’s huge,” says Morgan. “If you think about the impact [XPS 2.0] is going to have on the handset, it raises the bar on what consumers are expecting. Consumers don’t want to wait or go outside [to get their location information]. If we want people to adopt in big numbers, we want to make location work for consumers—in a couple of seconds and accurately indoors or out, in Iowa or Manhattan. It should be very appealing to handset manufacturers.”

The Skyhook solution is also designed to reduce power consumption. “It’s a big concern for device makers,” says Morgan. “Every second you’re trying to get a location, you’re burning the battery. Once you get a fix, you can turn off the radio so you don’t have to keep burning the battery.”

The original XPS, which Steve Jobs described as "really cool" in his keynote address at Macworld this year, was more simplified, says Morgan. "It was multi-mode capacity. It would look at GPS and Wi-Fi, then choose one or the other that was more accurate. It was very useful, but we were not getting the true hybrid output. With XPS 2.0, we’ve gone from multi-mode switching to true hybrid."

Cellular positioning comes into the equation by providing another method of achieving accuracy quickly. As Morgan puts it, “tracking the cell towers like the Wi-Fi allows us to have the third leg in the stool. Cell towers are spread out across metro areas, Google and carriers have ways that we can use cell towers to calculate position. It’s about 500 meters to 1000 meters off. It’s quick and it works on all devices because you don’t need GPS or Wi-Fi. We’re offering that as a piece to help in XPS. We can use their system across all devices.”

As cool as the other components are, Morgan says Wi-Fi is still the key ingredient.

“This is a big breakthrough in positioning and that plays a big role in driving the sale of devices,” he says. “It’s really the Wi-Fi part of it that is causing all these breakthroughs.”

For more on XPS 2.0 and Skyhook’s partnership with CSR—announced today—read the official press releases at the Skyhook Website.

For more on Skyhook Wireless read, “Wi-Fi Powers Metro Positioning System," "Eye-Fi Announces New Version with Geotagging and Hotspot Access," "Geo-Tagging Gets a Wi-Fi Boost," "Wardrivers: Pioneers or Pirates?," and "Wi-Fi Map of the World."

 Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-FiPlanet. 

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