I don’t think many LBS users can adopt Open Source directly
Stanley Wing Fai Ng
MapKing group of
companies, Hong Kong
Q. How in your view is GIS instrumental in LBS?
GIS is a fundamental element of LBS. As the “L” indicates, Location comes first. GIS contributes basic location information to enable interactive operations and decisions of users. Further, features of “BS” depends on the richness of information and features of GIS systems, to make or help making intelligent choices.
GIS functionality such as geocoding, routing, spatial search and analysis are commonly employed in LBS. But traditional GIS system needs to be updated/ fine-tuned for applying LBS due to differences in database structure and algorithm that it uses.
I would describe GIS as the cornerstone of building a successful LBS application. Taking our example, our company began as a GIS company, and our “MapKing” range of products employed traditional GIS technologies along with our expertise in mobile application.
Q.How different is GIS data management for LBS as compared to conventional GIS?
Compared with a conventional GIS, LBS need fast, frequent and sometimes real-time updates of its data (such as real-time traffic information). Location information in the LBS always reflects the True World environment to the users. Data management for LBS always needs to pick up its pace to catch-up with the ever-changing world and to show accurate position of the user and his surrounding. The scalability, performance and reliability of network and wellthought out data architecture is necessary for a large scale LBS provider since the data traffic is huge compared to any departmental conventional GIS needs.
Q.What is the difference in characteristics of data for LBS?
Part of data in LBS, say “real time traffic information”, are collected from various sources without the need of human interaction, and maintained by the system but GIS data depends on human input.
Like any conventional GIS, LBS deal with location and a specific theme. In order to facilitate LBS, service providers provide the base map data to render manmade structures like road network, geo-coded customer addresses and buildings and terrains like mountains and rivers. It also manages point-of-interest data such as location of ATMs, restaurants, gas stations, schools etc. Traffic information such as the road network with turn restrictions are also important for routing and car navigation. These GIS data needed should be updated and processed to be able to cater to various demands of LBS.
Q.How has LBS evolved with changing data needs? Is there a growth in demand for attribute data with increased usage of LBS?
Yes, the demand for attribute“With your Web 2.0 LBS software on the GPS mobile phone that allows photo capture with a Geo-tag, your son will post online the picture, plus a 5 star mark, of a full dish chocolate ice cream and share with his friend who is around the next street corner, and reminds him that he will get a 50% discount coupon by pressing “12 and 3” and buy the ice cream from the same shop within 2 hours.” is the vision that Stanley sets for the LBS indutry. He shares his data is definitely going up. LBS is, say, like a house. When different people move in to this house, they decorate it differently. The house then will end up looking completely different. As a data driven process that has to provide necessary functions to users, LBS has to accommodate sufficient quantity of properly defined data. The users, meanwhile, are ever-growing and changing. Their needs affect either the functionality or the data definition of the system. ‘Attribute’ is important but not only in the form of the classic “attribute” on database text book .
The following scenario is not far from us. With your Web 2.0 LBS software on the GPS mobile phone that allows photo capture with a Geo-tag, your son will post online the picture, plus a 5 star mark, of a full dish chocolate ice cream and share with his friend who is around the next street corner, and reminds him that he will get a 50% discount coupon by pressing “12 and 3” and buy ice cream from the same shop within 2 hours.
Q.How big is the challenge of availability of large-scale map data and points of interest (POIs)?
This is a question that I ask myself occasionally. The challenge here is “large-scale”. Conventionally, the process of acquiring map data is – sending out survey teams to each spot, making measurements, recording information and then compiling the data. Now, with the help of more advanced and convenient tools, we may not need to send out survey teams, and process is more cost effective. But the fundamental data requirements haven’t changed a lot. Worse, we are not making just landscapes, but inhabited areas as cities and people are now looking for greater and greater details. As is well-known such details change rapidly. So local knowledge and local operations are very important and we cannot completely give up the traditional ways. When you look at the ice cream cup and the coupon of the above example as two Point of Interests, you are closer to the challenge.
Q.What role of Open Source Software do you see in LBS?
As usual, Open Source Software helps the industry to grow more rapidly. But I don’t think many users can adopt Open Source directly – just like open sources are not replacing Microsoft Window or Excel or Word that you are using.
Q.What do you think is the scope of LBS in Asia vis-à-vis Europe and North America?
Europe and North America are quite different in LBS and high-end mobile phone taking up rate. In terms of smart phone, especially on Windows Mobile platform, Europe and Asia are heading in terms of popularity and North America is picking up sharp in 2008, as reported by market researchers.
Most countries in Asia are developing countries. We have huge number of university students and young executives who are willing to adopt advanced technologies including GPS, 3G phones, personal navigation devices (PNDs), WiFi games, etc. And hence we can expect a rise in demand of LBS too. But there are many business sectors and executives who still are reluctant to adopt new technologies. They prefer to work in old fashion as their forefathers used to do.
Q.What according to you are the factors that will drive the LBS industry in the times to come?
At this stage of development, the wide coverage of GPRS and 3G in many countries in Asia, the down pricing of mobile data charges of telecoms, the wide spreading of low cost or free WiFi in many cities and its transition to WiMax (that enables WiFi become “Movable”), the mainstream positioning of GPS smart phones and GPS PDA phones in major brands in middle and upper price range phone market, the availability of digital map data navigation software on PDAs and PNDs, and the availability of more applications, are all driving forces that are giving momentum to the LBS industry.
And there are two more decisive elements in the further development of the LBS industry; firstly, the willingness of telecom operators in loosening the partnership exclusivity restrictions in the startup stage of many applications in the region that are lacking a critical mass of users; secondly, how financial controllers invest in LBS applications/ projects. In case the total cost of ownership (TCO) is acceptable to operators, LBS would grow quickly.