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Generation 21

Skyhook Wireless

THE FIRST URBAN Wi-Fi POSITIONING SYSTEM

An excellent help for the nomad professional, the logistics manager, the policeman and even the trendy Starbucks coffee addicted.

An interview with Ted Morgan, the CEO and founder of Skyhook Wireless (former Quaterscope), a start-up of Boston, by Jorge Nascimento Rodrigues, editor of Gurusonline.tv, July 2005

After two years of development, since the foundation of Quaterscope (the former brand) in 2003 in Boston, Ted Morgan and his team just announced in July in the US the launching of the first urban Wi-Fi positioning system, renamed WPS - to differentiate and benchmark with the well known GPS controlled by the DOD (Department of Defence) of the American Administration. This WPS solution is the first positioning system to utilize Wi-Fi rather than GPS or cell towers GSM to determine location. The system is designed for the mobile society, for the millions of laptops, tablet PC, PDA, smart phones with Wi-Fi capabilities. Location-based services have a window of opportunity with this new technology. The comparative performance of location technologies based in Wi-Fi is excellent for dense urban areas and indoors. WPS is running on Windows XP and Windows Mobile and will move to Palm devices this year.

The start up took a 3 year period to map all the wi-fi hot spots of 25 metropolitan areas of the US, including Boston - the test bed of the software -, NYC, Philadelphia (the well known "Hot City" nowadays), the Silicon Valley, LA, Chicago and so on. The company physically scanned every street, building a reference database of all the access points in each area and use them as reference points for location tracking. Users can synchronize with Skyhook regularly to get a refreshed listing.

There are other location network options on the market (like Pango Networks born in 1999, Newbury Networks or the US-finish Ekahau), but they are not accurate in urban areas, says Skyhook, that considered them "distant cousins". With the mobile revolution and the mobiconomy (the economy of mobility), the Wi-Fi infrastructure is a new "bed" for new kind of services to companies, nomad professionals and people. Morgan expects to achieve 100 cities in US and begin in Europe with London and the Benelux region.

The killer applications for this new system are enormous: in logistics, advertising proximity, search and recovery - emergence services and disaster rescue -, tourist and personal urban info.
Morgan has an experience in e-commerce since the beginning, was executive of Open Market, one of the early leaders of the e-commerce revolution in 1994. Open Market founder, Shikhar Ghosh, is today chairman of Morgan's Skyhook. Morgan has an undergraduate in Mathematics from Georgia University and an MBA from The University of Chicago.

Site of Skyhook Wireless: www.skyhookwireless.com


Interview

What's the main difference regarding GPS or cellular systems?

Our WPS leverages Wi-Fi signals in the air while GPS use satellite-positioning signals. Cellular systems use the cell towers as reference points. All of these systems are similar in that there are a series of visible reference points in range that the client devices use to determine their position. WPS is unique because it utilizes the 10-20-million private/public Wi-Fi access points that were deployed by individuals and businesses. There are so many of these access points in metropolitan areas that these signals now overlap in very large numbers. So Skyhook has physically scanned every street of our coverage areas to build a massive reference database of over 1.7 million access points. Our client software then uses this reference database to determine the device's location at any given moment.

But, what is the main advantage of WPS?

Each of these systems has its strengths and weaknesses. GPS works great when you are in open areas with no buildings or trees, but it suffers in congested areas and will not work indoors. Cellular systems can work indoors but the accuracy is very poor. WPS is targeted at metropolitan areas indoors and outdoors but will not work well in rural areas.

«We felt that we could help accelerate the market for location based services by deploying a cheaper, easier to deploy and manage positioning system that worked on devices that people already used today (rather than having to buy new hardware)»

Why you decided to enter this emergent field of the mobile economy?

Well we recognized that along with the explosive growth in wireless technologies there would be a growing demand for location and that location would become a key contextual element in most applications. We also recognized the massive number of Wi-Fi devices that were deployed over the past couple of years and that those numbers continue to increase at a growing rate. We felt that we could help accelerate the market for location based services by deploying a cheaper, easier to deploy and manage positioning system that worked on devices that people already used today (rather than having to buy new hardware)

What's the differentiation regarding Finish/American based Ekakau or the older one Pango Networks?

These companies focus on indoor positioning for the most part. For example, they aim to track the exact location of a doctor inside a hospital. Their technologies require that you control the entire network environment, the access points and all the users. They rely on having a network connection via the access points at all time and knowing the exact locations of their access points. They also can safely assume that their access points will never move without their knowledge. In the outdoor wide-area environment, you can't make any of these assumptions so their algorithms will not work. Our technology has been designed from the ground up with the base assumption that this organic network can change at any time and that the outdoor environment has very different signal characteristics than indoor environments.

From the several vertical applications like logistics, advertising, emergence services, tourist and personal information, which do you expect to be the killer market segment?

We think they will all become very healthy markets; there is no single killer segment for location services. Instead location will become an element in just about every application.

«WiMax includes the same base station identification process as Wi-Fi so that the transition of our technology should be fairly straightforward. Of course, that all depends on the ultimate implementation of WiMax.»

What kind of upgrade will need WPS with the WiMax take off?

A lot of that depends on how WiMax evolves over the next couple of years. It is still very early for WiMax and there are a number of unanswered questions. But we believe WiMax holds great promise for wireless in general and will play a big role in location at some point. WiMax includes the same base station identification process as Wi-Fi so that the transition of our technology should be fairly straightforward. Of course, that all depends on the ultimate implementation of WiMax.

What is the main "test bed" experience of your WPS solution?

We conduct our real world testing in the Boston metropolitan area. We have a number of routes that include a variety of environmental conditions, which are good test cases for our software. We also have a very sophisticated simulation environment, which allows us to iterate through numerous models without having to leave the lab at all.

What will be the main market targets in Europe and Asia?

We expect to take the same expansion strategy in Europe/Asia as we having in the United States. We start with the largest metropolitan areas and keep adding new ones until the coverage stops meeting our requirements. Abroad, we will start with London and the Benelux region that has shown great results in our early testing.

Do you expect to go public?

We are focused on building the company at this time and not spending any time thinking about those types of events.

 
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