Local Platform For Location Based Application

fe-step-2-icon.pngSohail Abid of IdeasHut.com has posted some interesting questions about developing a local Location Based Services (LBS) platform in Pakistan. This is in the wake of recent announcements by Yahoo (FireEagle) and Google (see below) to make it easy for developers to use LBS. His thinking is that this local platform will be based on an existing solution such as Google and will be an open API which other developers can use to come up with their own apps. He wonders if the carriers will be receptive to this idea and how will such apps be received. I am posting an excerpt from the TGP thread below. My advice is to forget about the mobile carriers – there will be lots of ways to make it useful for individuals and businesses.

This thread aims to find/develop a foundation that can be used by mobile-applications to get the location of the mobile user. This has to be open and available to all mobile-developers without any carrier-dependencies.Background:
~~~~~~~~~
A few days ago google opened two programming techniques that can be used by mobile (web) developers to get location of users.

1) a javascritp call to google api that in turn gets city/country via the ip
2) new google gears geolocation api: “On mobile devices with Gears installed, the Geolocation API can use the cell-ID of nearby cell towers or on-board GPS (if either is available) to improve the postion fix”

How Does Google Do it:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Many phones with GPS connect to google maps application and share their lat/long and cell-tower-ids. google has thus made an approximate location data for cell-towers locations. And when a phone without GPS loads google maps application, it is given MyLocation based on the existing data collected via phones-with-gps.

Can We Use it for Pakistan
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Unfortunately, it wont work that well because most people have phones without gps. And its unlikely that google has got the location data for most cell-towers. Moreover, this google’s api can only be used in web-applications. (and gears geolocation api is only supported for some handsets with Windows Mobile).

What Do We Need:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
In simple words, we need a database of cell-tower-ids and their locations. Technically this would be available as an api for developers to use in their mobile applications. If telecom carriers agree to share the ID’s and Location info for their towers, a couple of volunteers can develop the API and make it available for everyone.

Question for YOU
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If telecom carriers will agree to share this info? And how should we talk to them? Are you willing to join me or help me in this? Any suggestions or comments are most welcome.

Facebook comments:

24 Comments

  • First of all, I think Google Maps for mobiles has a location feature without GPS. They also claim not to use any triangulation.

    Secondly, I think carriers should be able to get their heads out of their royal arses and provide this information in a well compiled manner.

  • Adnan,

    I strongly doubt if Google can do it without triangulation. Because that way +/- proximity from the location can be actually over a pretty big circle.

  • No need to worry — google’s solution is already proven in Pakistan. I wrote about it a while ago and many people verified it.
    http://telecompk.net/2008/05/15/mobile-google-maps-find-me-pakistan/

    The idea here is to collect location information from users and make it available to application developers.

    Sohail – you need to join this discussion :)

  • Will Google Gears not do this task? I mean what Sohail is asking, Isn’t Gears’ new APIs capable to do this task? I better forward the thread discussion of Telecom Grid to one of the developer of Google Gears API

  • Two further link. J2ME API seems to provide Cell ID of particular device which can then be mapped later to find location:

    http://realtimeblog.free.fr/

    http://www.opencellid.org/ (for future)

  • Hi Guys, let me clear some things here:

    1) Google says it collects tower-id/location via those users of google-maps mobile app who have GPS and who approve it to share their geolocation. And so I think google does not have record of most cell tower in pakistan (as we dont have many people with gps-equipped mobile)

    2) Google is NOT sharing this info with mobile-application developers. It is only sharing with web-sites (read the point below)

    3) Google Gears is a browser-extension. So only websites can take advantage of user’s location (AND only if user’s mobile’s browser supports Gears – only some high-end Win-Mob handsets do this at the moment).

  • Sohail,

    Would you like to share what have you tried so far by using J2ME technology? Following article might be helpful for you:

    http://developers.sun.com/mobility/apis/articles/location/

  • I mentioned Google Gears Geolocation API in detail because that’s what made me think: “What if an API like this is available for mobile-app developers of Pakistan!!”

    Most mobile phones used by Pakistani users support programming (either native or J2ME). If the developers have access to an API they can get the location of the user and make use of that. Then many useful applications can be developed and used without carrier-dependency.

    Today, If i want to make a small application that can show nearby hospitals/clinics, I cant because I dont have a way to translate cellID into location. But once an Open-API is created and made available for all developers. We might start seeing business of local mobile-applications.

    So what I am proposing is:

    We make a Task Force that prepares the ground work for the API. That is: record of most/all cell-towers. We can talk to telecom companies or we can start a volunteer campaign where users submit reports about cell towers.

    This can be automated with development of a light application that lets you send your present cell-tower-id along with location. Volunteers install this app and we gather data. The collected data can then be used for the API.

  • @ Adnan Ali: Yeah, carriers should show some support for this not-for-profit purpose.

    @ Adnan Siddiqi: Thanks for the links. Checking…

  • What we are talking here will be invisible to the people, for example: An application will tell you nearby Petrol Pumps, Restaurants, ATMs etc where ever you go.

    This will happen underneeth:

    1) The application will get the cell ID and ask the API to tell the location. API will send a response with multiple attributes like lat/long, province, city, sector/mohalla

    2) The application will make use of the API response to provide the service to the users.

    ===================

    Once we have the API, possibilities are endless!

  • Sohail, if you have Long/Lat as J2ME is giving(mentioned in Article) against Cell ID then I think it could help you out?

  • umm if J2ME’s Location API returns long/lat, you can use Google Map to find out lat/long of near buy places and store in DB and later retrieve them?

  • No, J2ME cannot return lat/long, it will need to have another API or service translating the cellID into lat/long.

  • guys, do also consider the fact that the Location API for J2ME is available only on a limited # of handsets.

    it’s available on Nokia Symbian S60, 3rd edition phones, some new phones by sony ericsson, and couple of motorola phones… and that’s it.

    i’m guessing that only 10% (or even less) of the Java-enabled phones currently used in pakistan support the api

  • JK I don’t believe that only 10% of Pakistani mobile market using old phones. What I see that everyone around me is using new phones these days. S60 third edition is not a new thing at all.

  • s60 3rd edition is not a new thing, agreed. but those phones are expensive. the cheapest one is the business series E50 i guess and even that costs more than 13K. and this series is just one of many nokia platforms. the most widely sold are the series 40 phones.

    so, out of all the phones in the world that cost at least 13K, only the ones made by Nokia AND running the S60 3rd edition OS are the ones that support location api.

    only 3-4 sony ericsson phones support it (the new JP-8 phones)

    the 10% figure was an over estimate. let’s cut it down to 5%.

  • I agree with Adnan here…

  • i love pak………

  • At the beginning, Google Geolocation API has determined the location for only Americans, for the other it has returned “unknown”. Later this service was advanced, but it often does not show results even for developed countries as yet. For such cases, there is a simple javascript extension to the Google API, which gives back the country of user.

    http://www.wipmania.com/en/blog/google-geolocation-api/

  • Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  • Guys help me how can i get Cell id Db for karachi.does PTA or cell phone companies will coperate or is it too confidencial for them, also is there some other way of getting towers cell id.

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