AT&T Wireless differs significantly from Wherify and Applied Digital Solutions, given it owns much of its network infrastructure. AT&T Wireless also has a large existing customer base that is used to an excellent quality of service (QoS) and certain level of post sales support. Launching LBS applications nation-wide with potentially tens-of-thousands of new subscribers joining daily, requires equipment that can handle data traffic levels and systems that have been thoroughly tested for faults. mMode contains diverse LBS services- ensuring that each of these works properly and is interoperable with a range of media devices is a labour-intensive activity which is one reason why they have decided to outsource as well.
4.4.2 Personal Locator: all the bits and pieces
Wherify’s location service centre (LSC) is at the heart of its current and pending product innovations. A carrier-class server and software hub, the LSC manages and presents location-based information. Unlike mMode, Wherify utilises wireless data and aGPS. Consider the following scenario where a parent wants to be reassured that their child made it to school alright after missing the bus. The parent requests a location report via the Internet using a Microsoft IE browser (or ringing the toll-free telephone number). The LSC contacts the child’s Personal Locator via the PCS network (if within the footprint), and then downloads the current GPS data and requests a location. Using the data from the LSC, the device that is identified by an electronic serial number (ESN), finds the closest satellite and then computes the longitude and latitude coordinates of the child’s location. The Personal Locator then communicates location information to the LSC and the LSC generates a location report for the parent via the Internet. The whole process from request to report takes about sixty seconds. The parent is able to look at the report visually on a scalable map which shows streets and other feature points in a vector or aerial view, using geographic information systems (GIS) capabilities. Each report requested by the parent is logged in the customer’s event file database for billing and subscriber profiling. The location database includes a time stamp along with the longitude/ latitude coordinates. The wearer’s profile is also stored including: age, gender, height, weight and features.
Wherify make no secret of their technology partners. They include an impressive list of companies: SiRF who provide the GPS chipset that is integrated into the Personal Locator based on a-GPS; Qualcomm for the CDMA chipset; Baldwin Hackett & Meeks who are applications developers, Conexant who provide the RF board; Advanced Micro Systems who specialise in flash memory; Compaq for the server technology; Intrado for emergency communications; and GlobeXplorer Online for the component of aerial photography. Security firewalls are paramount in the Personal Locator system as is redundancy and fault tolerance. During an emergency situation for instance, the LSC is even able to interact with public safety answering points (PSAP) through Wherify’s emergency operation service. There are customer care representatives available 24x7x365.
4.4.3 VeriChip made very easy
The least complex of the three case studies in terms of technology requirements is the VeriChip. RFID networks are usually small in scale when compared to nation-wide or global networks. They include the following components: the RFID transponder, a reader that captures information, an antenna that transmits information, and a computer which interprets or manipulates the information gathered. In the case of VeriChip, there is a requirement that each subscriber registers their personal details (and other relevant information they desire) on the GVS database. At this stage all the transponders issued by VeriChip are passive but it is likely that active transponders will be issued in the future, despite the fact that they require on-board battery power to operate internal electronics. When an individual passes an associated scanner, information is read and sent to the computer via an antenna. Dependent on the application, a log may be retained or the implantee’s location updated a predefined number of times in a set period. Given global standards are an issue for debate in RFID, proprietary systems are used.
5.1 Defining Convergence
Convergence means different things to different people and is usually loosely applied to denote the coming together of two distinct technologies, i.e. the merging of several products into a single good. The 2003 Penguin Concise Dictionary states that convergence is a “jargon term” and gives examples of the merging of the television (TV) and computer, or telephone and computer, or TV and WWW. To anyone who has studied technological trajectories at any length, convergence is far from being a jargon term, but a well-constituted concept in the field of innovation (18, 19, 20). Terms like “digital convergence”, “technological convergence”, “application convergence” and “industry convergence” have been used interchangeably in some instances, and in others each has carried a loaded meaning. For example, Covell (18) states: “(d)igital convergence is the merging of these improved computing capabilities, new digital multimedia technologies and content, and new digital communications technologies. This combination of computing power and functionality, digital networked interconnectedness, and multimedia capability enables new forms of human interaction, collaboration, and information sharing.” Greenstein and Khanna (20) on the other hand, distinguish between “convergence in substitutes” and “convergence in complements”. The distinction of these ‘kinds’ of convergence finally puts an end to the debate over usage. Convergence thus can occur at any level of detail, in any part of the subsystem.
5.2 LBS: a catalyst for IT&T convergence
Throughout this paper, technologies at the appliance, application and infrastructure level have been shown for each of the LBS cases. What can be seen is a coming together of what were once somewhat unrelated technologies. Most obvious perhaps is the convergence of wireless capabilities and the Internet as depicted in the mMode case. For example, IP-based phones can already receive voice, text and multimedia. And as for the vertical devices mentioned, many of these are converged technologies in themselves (e.g. the wireless PDA that is also a phone and MPEG3 player). In the case of Wherify, the traditional wristwatch has now been turned into a Personal Locator with the aid of a GPS chipset. And chip implants have found there way under the skin of human beings to converge with living tissue- chips once as big as bricks, now smaller in size than a grain of rice.
Yet it is not only at the device level that convergence is occurring. A whole suite of new applications are being created using content from syndicates, once considered to be unrelated. The Yellow Pages directory for instance, used to “find the nearest”, or “the best 10 nightlife” locations as well as providing “shopping discount alerts”. And geographic information systems once used for computer-aided design (CAD), now used to visually represent the geographic location trail of a child, using high resolution aerial photography once synonymous with superior defence intelligence systems. There are even applications like VeriPay that are forecasted to change the way that humans interact with other technologies like automatic teller machines (ATMs). Who needs to carry a card at all? Applications once used solely for businesses purposes, now permeating the consumer market given their cross-functional nature.
At the infrastructure level also, multiple network technologies are being used in tandem to locate subscribers including PCS with aGPS. Another example provided, was the VeriGuard system that will have the capability to incorporate other automatic identification (auto-ID) reader equipment belonging to smart card and biometrics. Even at the protocol level, the very essence of traditional voice calls will be packetised, i.e. voice will be data. It is obvious through the evidence provided in this paper that convergence in complements is occurring, given the products are working better together than separately (20). LBS has shown itself to also involve a diverse range of businesses from vertical and horizontal industries- from independent software vendors (ISVs) developing the applications, to third party suppliers building enabling technologies and platforms, toindustry bodies setting the appropriate standards for communications, to marketing consultants invited to develop and spearhead brand awareness campaigns. LBS brings not only the industries but the technologies to increasingly work together to form larger and larger systems (20).
Location-based services are pulling together a vast array of digital technologies like never before. The convergence between technologies is a cultural-changing force. Miniaturisation in design in particular is allowing for once separate technologies to be fused. From handset phones to smart watches to implants, the more invasive the technologies are becoming, the greater the precision for locating the subscriber or wearer or implantee. The question now, that all this technology can be used in an integrated fashion, is how far will entrepreneurs take LBS in the future? How many different players can become involved in offering LBS specifically before the state of affairs becomes too cluttered and confused? Do content providers reach mutually exclusive agreements with service providers (SPs) so that there is minimal conflict of interest? And if so, does this not limit the number of SPs to a few large players that can actually deliver LBS? And how many different types of LBS can one service provider practically offer? Looking at the dilemma from another perspective- will consumers require subscription to mMode, the Personal Locator and the VeriChip solution and carry with them a PDA, wear a GPS watch and be implanted with a chip, to circumvent a variety of limitations of each technology? Or are future directions set on a trajectory of even greater convergence proportions between all of the technologies discussed in this paper. For instance, will one device be able to cater for the needs at each level of accuracy- global, national, regional, local and in-building or will service providers amalgamate their networks to offer super-LBS services from satellite-based to network-based to LAN-based and PAN-based. Whatever the outcome, we are surely entering into a period where pervasive computing will become a dominant force in the way we live, work, and interact with one another.
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The author is currently involved in collaborative work with Nortel Networks on the theme of the Mobile Location Centre (MLC).