Another Big Win for Wi-Fi Positioning

By Naomi Graychase

November 18, 2008

As consumer demand for location-based applications continues to climb, business is booming for Skyhook Wireless, the Boston-based maker of the Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS) and XPS 2.0 hybrid positioning system.

As consumer demand for location-based applications continues to climb, business is booming for Skyhook Wireless, the Boston-based maker of the Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS) and XPS 2.0 hybrid positioning system.

In keeping with the winning tradition of its home city’s sports teams, 2007 and 2008 have been very good years (think undefeated regular season Patriots, 2007 World Champion Red Sox, and 2008 World Champion Celtics) for Skyhook. The young, privately held company announced Monday its latest win: Qualcomm, the leading wireless provider of GPS and Assisted GPS (A-GPS) technology platforms, has licensed Skyhook's WPS and will incorporate the technology into its gpsOne positioning technology platforms. This announcement comes on the heels of the news last month that Broadcom would incorporate Skyhook's WPS into its location based services (LBS) infrastructure. SiRF and CSR have also partnered with Skyhook and Apple uses Skyhook’s WPS technology in its iPhone and iPod touch.

Skyhook's WPS is a unique software-only system that produces accurate location information by detecting Wi-Fi access points and comparing them against a known database of geo-located points. Qualcomm will combine its gpsOne chip—the most widely deployed A-GPS solution available—with Skyhook's location technologies to enable device manufacturers, mobile operators, third-party service providers, and application developers to utilize a single, integrated hybrid positioning solution that takes advantage of both Wi-Fi and satellite GPS.

“Qualcomm can now sell a location system to every device-maker out there—all the Sprint and NextCom phones have Qualcomm chips in them, for instance—and this will also add your Wi-Fi location on top of that. Every [vendor] who takes advantage of that can now have the same location as what’s on the iPhone,” Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan told Wi-Fi Planet.

Currently, Qualcomm has more than 400 million gpsOne-enabled handsets in the market and there are more than 500 location-aware apps available for iPhone.

“We’re having a good year,” said Morgan. “What’s neat about this is that a couple of years back, the GPS folks would say they could do location everywhere, all over the world, indoors and out. This is a big change. When you add up all of our partners, more than 90% of the GPS market is now integrating Skyhook…I think it’s a big step for Wi-Fi in general.”

Skyhook’s solution also has the added advantage of reducing the power drain for location-based apps. “Devices can get a fix quicker and then turn the radios off or into sleep mode more quickly,” said Morgan. “Instead of 30 seconds, you can get a location in two seconds, so there’s much more flexibility.”

What Wi-Fi positioning is not great for is turn-by-turn navigation. “For that, GPS is better,” said Morgan.

The Skyhook technology works by tapping into its database of tens of millions of mapped Wi-Fi access points and cellular towers. To build the reference network, Skyhook sent drivers out in vehicles to survey the streets of tens of thousands of cities and towns.

“The quest continues,” said Morgan. “We’ve mapped over 70 million APs worldwide. We’ve got the majority of [the European cities] covered now, and we’re ramping up different parts of Japan and Asia. We’re covering the globe. We’re starting to scan for cell towers, as well. We’ll have the entire U.S. cell tower database by the end of this year.”

Looking ahead, Morgan said that his company is setting its sights on more devices. “We’re signing devices with tier one manufacturers to get those devices out in the market—because that’s when we get paid.”

As for Google’s announcement that it is getting into the Wi-Fi locationing game, Morgan said “It’s pretty good validation that what we’re doing is a good thing, if the biggest tech company in the world wants to get involved...The patent portfolio we’ve developed is strong. We’ll get a fair shake and win if we’re better.”

Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-Fi Planet. She is based in Western Massachusetts.



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