Location detection techniques used in mobile devices

The rapid development of the technology has driven the world into an information era, where people are empowered with accurate, reliable data within nanoseconds, regardless of the location they exist. While desktop machines, laptops and such devices allow the users easily access the internet with big screens, longer battery life and satisfactory amount of input choices, mobile devices also play a major role even with slow connectivity and many other less satisfactory features. It can be clearly seen that nowadays, the world is highly demanding for geographical information and applications based on geo data. Going beyond the scope, such information has run into presenting location based advertisements and providing customized location based social networking capabilities.

The accuracy and reliability of the geographical information should be highly considered even though the tolerance of the inaccuracy may vary based on the application they are used in. Especially users such as firefighters, tourists, soldiers need more precise location capabilities. The current location of a mobile phone is attained through several technologies at least based on three already known fixed location points. Therefore it is a basic necessity to have an existing database with a set of location coordinates. Local mobile service providers have such data bases of their cell towers, but they do not expose such information to third parties. But applications like “Google maps” use its client’s cell phone to collect the nearby cell tower location information. Apart from cell tower based location tracking, there exist other two popular technologies rapidly growing these days. They are GPS tracking and Wi-Fi tracking methodologies.

Cell tower triangulation
Cell tower triangulation is a popular technique used for more than decodes to determine the location of a mobile device. This is also known as the network based approach which uses the service provider’s infrastructure. Since every mobile device is connected to a wireless access point or base station, it is possible to use the location of the base station as a proxy location of the device. According to latest information, tower based location tracking is used in 80% of GSM networks over 212 countries and territories. Therefore GSM tracking is one of the best techniques with a large database, and widely spread base stations around the globe.
But when considering the accuracy of the information, this technique provides the least accurate results. Accuracy depends on the density of the cell towers where it provides more accurate location in urban areas and error prone results in rural.

GPS tracking
The Global Positioning System is designed in a way that any vantage point on the earth is visible to at least six satellites orbiting above 12,600 miles away from ground. The location of a point is measured by the time delay of a signal to arrive from a satellite. This will estimate extremely precise distances which have higher percentage of accuracy (5m-20m), compared to other methodologies. The system ensures that every receiver is enabled to connect to at least three satellites at the same time. Then previously collected information will be used to acquire the exact location and this will be highly based on the quality of the GPS signal received.
But to get the actual benefit of the GPS tracking service you need to have a GPS enabled phone which is probably high in cost. It is necessary to consider the effect of environmental conditions on the strength of the signal which sometimes result in slow response or even no response in high buildings, tunnels like places.

Wi-Fi tracking
Wi-Fi is a very popular technology used to access the internet in within a constrained area. Wi-Fi hot spots are growing in an average of 40% per year in US like countries while developing countries like Sri Lanka also expanding its branches of telecommunication revolution. Wi-Fi tracking is much better than cell tower triangulation, but it is less accurate than GPS tracking since it depends on the Wi-Fi AP density. At most the accuracy would range up to 100 meters. The advantage of using this method is, the signal will not affect by bad weather conditions and will provide reliable results even within indoors.
Each of these methodologies has its own advantages which will make them more appropriate in different domains regarding the facts like cost, accuracy percentage needed etc. but in order to provide a best location based service, you need to acquire the most accurate location coordinates. That is why the positioning technology market is always looking towards the new advancements of hybrid approach which utilizes all three of above technologies as appropriate.

About Manoj Fernando

Manoj is currently reading for his bachelor’s degree of Information Technology in University of Moratuwa. Currently he is studying at Level two of his University. He is a freelancer as well as a part time PHP developer at Ditely Web Design(US). He has experience in server side implementation using PHP server, AJAX, JQuery and HTML5. He has also involved in many software projects and has experience in JSP, Hibernate, .Net and Oracle. In addition he is interested in Web Development, Windows Mobile Game Development and Android Application Development. He would like to extend his studies along with Software Engineering and Database Management. As working experience, He has been previously working at Dialog Axiata (pvt) Ltd as a CCE.

One thought on “Location detection techniques used in mobile devices

  1. Location based tracking has lots of potential in the emerging mobile market. But I believe the main difficulty in the mobile world yet is the power consumption. We all know how much power GPS and Wifi drains from a smart phone. When it comes to power consumption I think the best solution is GSM based or cell-tower based tracking when compared with other two viable options mentioned here. Main advantage of cell-based location tracking is that there’s no overhead. It’s already there and it functions well. (Cell towers transmit there locations and If i remember correct, the google maps api can decode latitudes and longitudes from these location IDs.)

    Hmm..yet a hybrid of GSM based tracking and GPS based tracking sounds awesome…it might just be enough to first triangulate using cell towers and then to pin point the location using GPS. It could be just enough…!