Home Articles Combining wireless location services with enterprise ebusiness applications

Combining wireless location services with enterprise ebusiness applications

Eve Kleiman
Principal Product Manager, GeoSpatial and MultiMedia Technologies ,
Oracle Corporation Asia/Pacific

Executive overview
Many businesses around the globe have discovered that they can improve business operations by giving their customers, partners and employees access to key information via mobile devices. But these devices shouldn’t simply be viewed as an extension of the desktop. The size of the device, the input mechanisms and the types of tasks people want to complete require that companies develop a well thought out strategy for going mobile. That strategy should incorporate the roll of location-based services. Mobile devices, by their very nature, are designed to be used from a variety of locations. By taking advantage of the location technologies and services currently available, companies can greatly enhance the value of their mobile applications. Oracle offers a complete set of technology, services and partnerships to help you get the most out of your wireless location-based service applications.

Introduction
Maximizing productivity, increasing sales and improving service are top priorities for any company. The rapid adoption of the Internet in the 1990’s fueled a dramatic increase in productivity, created tremendous sources of new revenue and made it possible for customers and partners to do business with companies 24 hours a day and seven days a week. In the 21st century, companies are taking the next step in the technology revolution by enabling many key business processes to be conducted via mobile devices such as Web-enabled phones, personal digital assistants and pagers.

When companies moved from mainframe computing to client-server computing or from a paper-based office to Web-based paperless office, the changes involved more than technology. They involved a mindset change as well. With the evolution of the personal computer, companies could enable ordinary workers to benefit from technology instead of just specially trained workers using proprietary terminals. With the rise of the Internet, employees had to overcome the concept of constantly printing, copying, routing and faxing documents.

The same mindset change is required to fully realize the opportunities that mobile devices provide. People want to interact much differently with mobile devices than they do with PCs. They do want to access some of the same applications they do on the Web, such as e-mail, expense reports, address books and calendars, but they have no desire to write lengthy documents. Other pieces of information, such as driving directions, real-time traffic and alerts about critical pieces of data, are far more important on a mobile device than on a PC. More importantly, people use mobile devices when they are not at their home or office, and as a result their locations are not fixed. So to provide your audience (whether they are employees, customers or partners) mobile applications with the greatest utility, you need to understand where they are, where they’ve been and where they are going. Incorporating location-based services with your mobile applications can help you complete these requirements. This paper will introduce you to the concept of location-based services and discuss how Oracle9iAS Wireless can help you deliver powerful location-aware mobile applications.

Location-based services overview
Many people think of location information as the graphics and text that are captured on maps. But look beyond the map and you’ll find geocoded information such as street addresses and zip/postal codes; positional data captured from navigation purposes such as GPS; satellite and aerial imagery; route information and directions; time-sensitive events such as accident reports, weather reports and the location of service fleets; directories such as yellow pages; and databases with demographic and pyschographic data.

Organizations have demonstrated that location-based services not only deliver a strategic differentiation to their wireless and Internet services, but also provide a means to integrate customer and corporate information necessary for e-business. Carriers and portals now recognize that they will compete on the basis of how effectively they can integrate their CRM and ERP operations with those of customers and suppliers to create a positive business experience. Incorporating location into existing business operations enhances delivery of wireless services. Likewise, delivering real-time, location-enhanced information helps customers and suppliers accelerate, automate, and optimize their decision making process – an essential requirement for any location-based services system.

What do you do with a wide variety of the location-based information available? How can you improve your businesses with it? Well, location is a unifying theme in business. Spatial relationships, patters and trends reveal invaluable business intelligence and a critical dimension of information utility and understanding to business applications. Location services bring this utility to every facet of business.

Location-based services make use of spatial information and the functions that operate on this information, thus enabling you to incorporate “location awareness” and “location sensitivity” into your front-office apps, back office apps, supply-chains, field operations, Web offerings and more. As a result, this type of information is playing an integral role in the day-to-day operations of most organizations.

  • Location-awareness refers to applications or services that make use of location information. Location need not be the primary purpose of the application or service. In fact, location awareness will often be an embedded capability.
  • Location-sensitivity refers to location-enabled mobile devices such as mobile phone, personal digital assistant or pager

Location enabling your wireless business applications
As most wireless carriers are keenly aware, customer acquisition and retention are essential to sustainable growth. Customers of B2B or B2C wireless services have more choices then ever about when, where and from whom to buy location-enhanced services. Keeping them satisfied and coming back is paramount – and an ongoing challenge. Location-based services offer mobile operators an excellent opportunity to deliver value-added information that is integrated with that of customers and suppliers, creating a positive business experience. The result is a suite of rich, highly integrated, and personalized location-enhanced services that can be accessed via wireless devices.

Customers want the provision of location-based service to be automatic – they want carriers and wireless portals to take care of integrating a variety of Internet and enterprise information services with a customer’s preferences, enabling a user to focus on informed decision making. For example, a real-time traffic application at one end may automatically access multiple information sources at other companies’ servers, across the Internet on dozens of Web sites, on other servers within the organization – and integrate the information. A customer checking on the availability of a hotel in a given city might access geocoding services that identify the location of the customer and nearest hotels, and would cull data from real-time travel services to check availability and book a room and from a driving directions service to route the customer to the hotel.

For wireless location-enhanced services to be effective, they must be integrated with front-office and back-office applications. By integrating enterprise information with customer information, carriers obtain comprehensive business intelligence, and value builds exponentially. Mobile operators become better positioned to use real customer information to determine wireless service expansion, improve service delivery, and determine load demands. On the customer end, by automating information integration and interpretation, the customer is able to deal with a much richer set of location-enhanced information for better decision-making. With the introduction of event-driven e-Business, wireless carriers and portals can send fresh information as it becomes available or as users roam into a new location, rather than waiting for customers to check in with the service. Customers, mobile operators, and partners can react immediately to the changed location of a handset user by delivering personalized services for his or her new roaming region.

Enhancing mobile applications with location-based services
Although location-based services can offer tremendous benefits for users in a fixed environment (for example, tracking the location of your company’s fleet), the biggest appeal of location-based services is as a key enabler for mobile applications. The Strategis Group predicts that by 2005, the amount spent on mobile location-based services will exceed $9.75 billion per year. Although significant safety benefits and business opportunities will result from the FCC’s E911 mandate (see below for more on this), the technology that is needed for location-based services to benefit businesses is here today.

Deploying location-aware mobile applications can help your business in a number of ways. First, location-awareness can significantly improve the utility of mobile applications. Mobile devices (excluding laptops), by their very nature have to be small enough to comfortably fit in pockets and purses. The downside to the small form factor is that the display is considerably smaller and input much more difficult. By carefully choosing what content makes the most sense to display and personalizing the content whenever possible, you can improve the application considerably. Moreover, leveraging the power of location, you can provide your users with easy access to relevant and timely information. This can lead to improved productivity, greater sales, and happy customers and partners.

Location-based services can enhance a range of mobile applications across industries and job functions. Some examples of mobile location-based applications include:

  • Sales force/marketing automation
  • Field service
  • AVL/Fleet management
  • Telematics
  • Consumer travel services
  • Wireless call center tracking
  • Location-based billing

What is unique about wireless location-based services?
Wireless carriers recognize that a new class of mobile services can now be location-enabled as a way to enhance and differentiate offerings. In many cases, wireless portals are aggregating Internet content and delivering it through mobile devices after it is filtered, through formats such as WML, C-HTML and VoiceXML. However, the unique state of being mobile presents special opportunities and challenges, including:

  • Wireless devices will continually transmit the location of device, enabling direction finding, mapping, friend finder, and related information services.
  • Location capability enables powerful and compelling services that previously did not exist for mobile users (for example, “dial 911!”, “where am I?”, “how far to…?”, “how do I get to…?”, “what is the current traffic situation on route….?”).
  • With “location-aware” devices it is now possible to “push” syndicated, and personalized information to wireless user (for example, local weather, local news, local traffic, advertising)
  • Location capability also enables mobile operators and end users to answer the following questions:
    1. What is the physical location of a current call, for billing purposes? How can I implement a location-based tariff (for example, to discourage casual downtown during normal business hours)?
    2. Where exactly are calls dropping off and what can carriers do about it?
    3. What does it cost me if signal strength is poor in this area? Who lives here?
    4. Self service: what is the signal strength where I live, work, travel?
  • Location capability poses mobile operators with the challenge of responsibly handling customers’ personal privacy.

Location acquisition: You don’t have to wait for E911
In the United States, the FCC has mandated a phased introduction of location information from emergency calls (E911). This will begin in early 2002, rolling out to 100% of new phones by the end of 2004 at the latest.

For applications to become location-aware, the wireless network must acquire the current location of the device. This can be done either automatically or manually. Automatic location acquisition uses a positioning network to location a fix of a given device using technology such as:

  • Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites
  • Cellular base stations

Each of these automatic-positioning technologies has benefits and drawbacks: Cellular base stations are ubiquitous across most urbanized areas, but their positioning is not precise enough to accurately locate a user within FCC mandates. In contrast, GPS satellite positioning can be extremely precise (accuracy within meters), but the signal is easily obscured inside buildings, urban canyons, and forested areas. While these automatic positioning technologies will become commonplace over the next few years, it is possible to deploy location services now – using the existing wireless positioning infrastructure.

Instead of waiting for devices with automatic location detection (either by “triangulation” of the three nearest base stations or by built-in GPS receivers), applications can be designed to enable quick manual inputs for location acquisition. These include using:

  • Landmarks (Users save locations such as home, office, and hotels, and then choose those to serve as reference points.)
  • Previous locations (Applications can store the last few locations that were used.)
  • Address, city or zip code (depending upon the level of granularity required)
  • Cell-id boundaries (for defining and delivering LBS services)

In addition, it is possible for wireless carriers in many parts of the world to use existing cell-id boundaries for locating devices and delivering LBS services. For example, GSM phones (the dominant mobile network in much of the world) must know their cell identity if they are switched on and have radio coverage (the identity is carried by a broadcast signal from each base station). It is also possible to find out roughly how far a GSM phone is from the current base station. This is achievable because the devices share radio channels by using different allocated time slots. Therefore, they have to send their data either sooner or later, depending upon how far from the base station they are. This is called timing advance. All mobile phones must know their timing advance if they are on a call, so they know roughly how far they are from the base station (within about 500 meters).

Key Technology enables for Mobile Location-Based Services
The performance and capability requirements expected for wireless location-based service can easily approach that of a top Internet portal – millions of queries on a daily basis, hundreds of concurrent transactions, and millisecond query response times. Thus, the required system must support all the unique CPU-intensive location queries, and provide scalability, storage, and interoperability.

Real-time, transaction-based location services have the kinds of feature and performance requirements listed in Table 1.

Table 1: Wireless Location-Based Services: Feature and Performance Requirements

Feature Requirements Performance Requirements
Address verification and matching

Map rendering

Yellow page directory query

Driving directions

Personalization by location

Proximity analysis

Standards-based location service APIs

Personal/in-car navigation capability

Voice (VoiceXML) capability

XML integration with e-business apps

Web Services Directories

Scalable architecture

Gigabytes to terabytes of data

Multiple CPU processing

DBMS table partitioning

Distributed processing

Native spatial data management

Online services interoperability

Millisecond location query

Million + daily queries

25,000+ user sessions per hour

Portal caching

Java, XML, and the use of Spatial databases have emerged as enabling technologies that provide fundamental infrastructure for the delivery of mobile location services.

Java
In the last two years has been an unprecedented level of acceptance of Java as an emerging standard for the deployment of object-oriented spatial tools and applications. Developers and end users alike recognize the simplicity and power of Java applets, servlets, and beans for the delivery of location-based services. Java is ideal for location-based services because it’s simple to use and familiar to most developers, but also high-performance and powerful. Best of all, it’s platform independent, so you’re not locked into any particular vendor for services.

XML
XML has emerged as the primary standard for sharing data between companies. From a location-based services standpoint, XML can be used to send and receive geographic and location data from spatial databases used for providing maps, driving directions, real-time traffic or yellow pages search results. Spatial Databases
Geographic and location information such as road networks, service boundaries and longitude/latitude data is much larger and more complex than the ordinary text found in most databases. Spatial databases make it easy to store and manage geographic and location data and are now able to serve the data to Web browsers and mobile devices very rapidly.

ORACLE’S Location-Based Services Infrastructure
Oracle9iAS Wireless is a mobile middleware server that delivers any content to any device. Applications are independent of the target device, yet automatically can exploit specific features of the device and provide customized content depending on the availability of such features. Oracle9iAS Wireless performs a variety of services as shown in Figure 1: adaptation (aggregation) of content, general processing, transparent transformation to each device, and interfaces to external location services.

Figure 1: Oracle’s Location-Based Services Solution
Any content
Applications can use any content available on the Web, in the database, or a file system. Oracle9iAS Wireless can either accept data in MobileXML (Oracle’s device-independent XML) or use one of its many Adapters to convert content into MobileXML. Opportunities for reusing code and content are considerable, and the advantages for development time and cost are apparent.

Any device
Oracle9iAS Wireless Transformers then convert the MobileXML into the markup language required by each mobile device (WML, TinyHTML, c-HTML, VoiceXML etc). Obviously, devices vary in their ability to display certain content in a reasonable manner, or even to store it in memory. However, MobileXML is flexible enough to enable different input and output options depending on a specific device’s capability. Oracle9iAS Wireless exploits the maximum hardware capability of the device to present information. Most importantly, applications that work on today’s devices will continue to work without limitation with tomorrow’s more advanced devices and markup languages.

Anywhere
Oracle9iAS Wireless provides a foundation for deploying location-aware mobile applications. Mobile devices naturally benefit from location awareness, especially when supported by mobile positioning technology. With Oracle9iAS Wireless, the method by which an application determines “location” is irrelevant. A user can choose whether to base location on automatic positioning or manual positioning. Oracle9iAS Wireless also allows each user to define certain locations (such as home, office, and local airport), and to designate any of them as the default. It also lets users enter an arbitrary location, such as a distant city. Manual positioning can be used when the automatic positioning is not available or not relevant. It is useful for “what-if” scenarios such as performing a query for a location other than the user’s current location: for example, “Which services will be available to me as soon as I reach the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco?”

Any location service provider
Location-awareness for mobile applications is incomplete without specialized services, such as geocoding, reverse geocoding, driving directions (routing), yellow pages, white pages, maps, weather forecasts, traffic reports, and demographic information. With Oracle9iAS Wireless, an application can use data in a locally-hosted spatial database and using specialized tools (mapping, geocoders, routing) or it can access similar (mapping, geocoding and routing services) from an external provider. This gives the developer the choice of selecting those services to be hosted locally and those that are accessed remotely.

Using Oracle9i and Oracle Spatial, enterprises can store all their spatial and attribute data in-house and access this information using standard tools and applications. For companies that don’t have the resources or data to locally host their location-based services, Oracle9iAS Wireless can accept data from third-party providers using a suite of rich and extensible location interfaces that support a variety of geocoding, mapping, routing and yellow pages vendors (see below for details). Combining these two approaches, Oracle9i and Oracle9iAS Wireless provides a complete infrastructure to support both deploy both hosted and syndicated location services.

The Oracle9i AS Wireless provides a set of APIs that enables pre-integrated web-enabled services for location related queries. This enables carriers to easily ingest different sources of location services providers worldwide using a single, consistent XML or Java interface. These interfaces allows seamless integration with existing location service vendors.

Currently defined location-based APIs include:

  • Geocoding
  • Routing
  • Yellow page
  • Mapping

This API suite can be expanded to incorporate additional sources of online location services like real-time traffic, mobile positioning, and geodemographic services. Geocoding
Geocoding determines the longitude and latitude coordinates of an address. Geocoding is the most fundamental of location services, because it is used directly or indirectly by the other location services. A wide assortment of online geocoding services, including Mapblast, Webraska, Whereonearth, have been integrated into Oracle9iAS Wireless. In addition, partner technologies like MapInfo’s MapMarker and Xmarc WIISE platform provide geocoding tools that can be directly integrated with Oracle Spatial to enable local geocoding.

Routing
Routing is more commonly known as driving directions. In addition to turn-by-turn instructions, routers might also provide maps of each turn and of the complete route. The router might also supply a list of point coordinates along the route, to enable the requesting user to perform some spatial analysis (for example, to identify which customers can be visited along the route). Interfaces to the leading wireless and Internet routing services have been integrated into Oracle9iAS Wireless, including Airflash, Mapblast, and Webraska, among others. In addition, a number of partners such as Xmarc can provide local routing services directly inside the Oracle Spatial database.

Figure 2: Using Landmarks to Get Driving Directions to Address Book contact

Mapping
Mapping enables users with capable devices to visualize location-related data. Oracle9iAS Wireless’ mapping interface directly accepts data from Airflash, Mapblast, MapInfo, Webraska, and Xmarc. Enterprises can also implement their own solution using Oracle Spatial and their choice of mapping tools.

Figure 3: Getting a Map Delivered to a Handheld Device

Yellow page directories
Yellow pages is a service that can determine a list of businesses matching a specified region and either a business name or a category. Applications deployed on Oracle9iAS Wireless enable users to search for a business based on their current or future locations.

Figure 4: Entering ZIP Code for Yellow Pages Search

Associating a region with a service
Some companies want to be able to deliver specific services to a particular user based on their location. A wireless carrier who has implemented E911 might want to offer localized content when a user enters a certain region, while an enterprise might want to provide details of local facilities to key executives. With Oracle9iAS Wireless’ region modeling tool, your developers can quickly define boundaries and associate a boundary with a given list of services.

Figure 5: Associating a Region with a Service
Oracle spatial
Oracle Spatial serves as a foundation for deploying Internet and wireless location-based services. It provides data management for location information such as road networks, wireless service boundaries, and geocoded customer addresses. It enhances Oracle-based applications by allowing users to easily incorporate location information directly in their applications and services. Oracle Spatial provides spatial object type storage, SQL access, spatial operations, fast R-tree and quadtree indexing, and projection and coordinate transformation support. Oracle Spatial can also perform location queries on geocoded yellow page databases, to find such things as the nearest hotels, restaurants, and gas stations. In short, Oracle Spatial enables e-business applications, portals and wireless ASPs, to readily incorporate location capability into their services.

The Oracle Location-Based Services differentation
Oracle’s integrated location-based Services capability is significantly differentiated from any technology on the market. See Table 2 for a list of Oracle’s differentiating capabilities.

Table 2: Benefits of Deploying 9iAS Wireless Location-Based Services

Link-Driven and Proprietary Location-Based Applications Oracle9i, Oracle Spatial, and Oracle9iAS Wireless
File based applications Database-centered applications
Batch/off-line applications Real-time transactions
Simple queries used by Portals SQL queries integrated into e-business apps
Stovepipe applications Open architecture
Link driven – no actual content Dynamic links to content, online services
Not integrated with e-business services Integrated with leading e-Business apps
Not enabled for wireless devices Integrated platform for all wireless devices
Limited location services Unlimited support for external services
B2C focus B2C, B2B2C, & B2B focus
Limited platform availability Multi-platform support
Limited scalability Proven terabyte scalability
Limited support for 3rd party tools Supported by all leading IT tool vendors
Proprietary interfaces SQL, XML and Java interfaces

Many companies offer pieces of a technology and services bundle to help you deliver location-based services for mobile devices. Only Oracle offers a complete infrastructure that provides you with performance, flexibility and relationships needed to deliver the best mobile applications to your users. Oracle’s advantages include:

  • Powerful mobile middleware server (Oracle9iAS Wireless)
  • Support for all devices (phones, PDAs, pagers, voice)
  • Interfaces to third-party services (geocoding, mapping, routing, yellow pages)
  • Relationships with more than 30 location-based service providers, technology vendors and systems integrators
  • Java and XML support for maximum flexibility with third-party service providers
  • Ability to store and manage location and geographic objects in database (Oracle Spatial)
  • Ability to run in-house or outsource application deployment with Oracle Mobile Online Services

Pre-integrated Third-Party technology and services
Oracle has leveraged a rich base of pre-integrated application, tools, and partner solutions for the delivery of location-based applications. These partner technologies have been certified to integrate into Oracle’s location platform. Additional partners are being recruited on an ongoing basis and generally fall into three categories: tool vendors, content providers, and on-line service providers. Types of tools, location services, and content are shown in Table 3 below.

Table 3: Partner Tools, Location Services, and Content

Partner Tools Partner Online Services Partner Content
Mobile mapping

Internet mapping

Geocoding

Mobile positioning

Dynamic traffic

Yellow pages directories

Geocoding

Navigation datasets

Yellow and white page data

Business information

Demographic information

Conclusion
If your company is looking to deploy mobile applications as a way to improve business processes, increase revenue, or enhance service, delivering location-based services benefits with little added costs. Your company’s location-based services strategy should require maximum flexibility and performance.

With Oracle9iAS Wireless you get both flexibility and performance. You can take content from any provider and make it available to any device. Built-in interfaces and partnerships with leading location-based services and technology providers enable quick access to the content for your developers. Since Oracle9iAS Wireless is part of Oracle9i Application Server, you can get the highest performance possible. If you want to store and manage geographic and location-data yourself, you can leverage Oracle Spatial, an option to the industry-leading Oracle9i database.

Best of all, you don’t have to wait around for E911. If you want to take advantage of location-based services today, Oracle provides you with a complete solution that takes advantages of existing technologies.