Geospatial databases - such as Geolocata from Whereonearth - allow Internet users to look up information such as the location of the nearest restaurant.
Mobile phone users input their location via data entry, a GPS signal, or mobile phone triangulation. "Geolocator processes content or address information, assigns the user a geographic co-ordinate, stores it in its file structure and, once it receives a target co-ordinate, runs aproximity search," says Whereonearth CEO Steve Packard.
UK-based Internet accommodation service LeisureHunt has used Geolocata to provide hotel searches for several portals including Yahoo!, VirginNet, LineOne and ITN. Customers can search according to location, price, facilities or any combination of features. They can also select from hotels that allow real-time booking on the system.
A content provider company would run search software on its server to provide a service to mobile users. A typical implementer could be a major portal supplier that wants to provide a lodging service, explains Packard, adding that it would use the product to localise the content that it aggregates for end-users.
Another example would be a recruitment company that would aggregate jobs based on location. The engine can also order results using additional fields, such as job category or salary.
The algorithms to conduct proximity searches are not innovative, but the value-add comes in processing multinational data, says Packard. It means that you can conduct searches spanning international boundaries.
While the product has potential uses for Internet surfers accessing it from a fixed point, mobile devices will be the real growth area, says Packard. A number of companies are already working on phone triangulation over GSM networks which would enable the location data to be sent transparently from the phone to the server, he says. Packard also believes the triangulation method will become pervasive.
A possible scenario involves a businessperson arriving in Luxembourg airport with a Wap-enabled (wireless application protocol) device, who needs to find a hotel. Geolocator could run a geospatial query to find the nearest available place. Even though the nearest Sheraton may be just over the German border, only five miles away, the product would still find it, he says.
One company producing triangulation technology is Cambridge Positioning Systems, which has a system called Cursor.
The technology works by comparing the relative times that it takes for a signal sent by the mobile telephone network to arrive at the telephone handset and a nearby fixed receiver.