The mobile location industry epitomizes an emerging market: The environment is complex and many different technologies and methodologies can yield the same results; furthermore, there are no precedents or best practices yet established, making the LBS landscape unfriendly to developers.
Currently, vendors typically have a proprietary API for accessing their position information. In general, two types of API are being used:
Network-based API. The positioning information is available on the network server. This information can be accessed by any party that has rights to access the server.
Handset-based API. The positioning information is generated on the device and is directly accessible by applications running on the device.
The majority of positioning solutions provide a network API for developers. Access to the position information is provided by a mobile positioning center (MPC). The same API is used regardless of the positioning technology, thereby providing a layer of abstraction for developers. The interface to the MPC is typically provided using HTTP. MPCs are a step in the right direction for developers, but they do not quite solve the problem. There are still some challenges to face, such as the lack of standardization and roaming among location services offered by disparate mobile operators. Until these issues are resolved, many vendors will continue to hold off on their LBS efforts.
Standards in the location market are required to resolve interoperability issues between positioning technologies and network operators. Without a defined standard, the rollout of LBS will continue to lag behind expectations. To address this need, in 2000, Nokia, Ericsson, and Motorola jointly formed the Location Interoperability Forum (LIF). The goal of LIF is to promote common and ubiquitous mobile location services (MLS). In 2002, LIF became a member of the Open Mobile Alliance, to make location-based services part of future OMA standardization efforts.
A common API for development across vendor platforms and location technologies will help drive the LBS market. It will give developers a way to design location-based services that are both network-protocoland positioning-technology-independent. Other issues the LIF addresses include privacy, roaming, and charging.
Other standardization efforts include the Open GIS Consortium (www.opengis.org) and the Magic Service Initiative (www.magicservicesforum.org).