Wi-Fi: Cheaper Alternative to GPS?
Researchers at Intel are examining ground-based ways to triangulate an individual's location with Wi-Fi or cellular networks like GSM, said Ian Smith, a senior researcher from Intel Labs, in a July 26 CNet article. Microsoft, meanwhile, has dispatched cars to locate the signals sent out by millions of home and office wireless networks, according to a July 25 story at MSNBC.com. Microsoft said that, by recording the position of every wi-fi address on a giant map, it had created a positioning system that would make it possible for anyone with a wi-fi-enabled laptop computer to identify their location to within 30.5 meters.In June, Skyhook Wireless announced the commercial availability of its wi-fi Positioning system, or WPS. Currently, Skyhook has mapped 25 major cities in the United States, including New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Ted Morgan, president of Skyhook Wireless, told Business Fleet the WPS program is initially better suited as a complement to GPS. GPS providers are looking into having WPS take over for GPS in urban environments like Manhattan, he said.GPS often fails in downtown crystal canyons where tall buildings can block signals. By timing how long it takes signals to go from the satellites to a person, a handheld containing a GPS chip can determine that person's location.A wireless system could potentially reduce the costs of implementing location-based services. Adding GPS to a phone requires that the manufacturer add a chip. In a wireless system, the calculations to convert signal relay times into geographic location will get performed on a phone's processor.However, wi-fi triangulation depends on dense deployment of wi-fi hot spots. The technology is inherently better suited for urban areas than sparsely populated rural areas where access points are deployed too far apart, according to the CNet article.