SUPL 2.0 – The Next Big Thing in Location Based Services? Part 1

By Manikantan Parameswaran On December 27, 2010
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LBS (Location based services) applications are amongst the most popular with today’s wireless subscribers. And they’re forecast to become much more popular still: IEMR (IE Market Research Corporation) recently released a report projecting that the global market for GPS navigation and LBS will rise by 51.3 percent through 2014, to $13.4 billion! With this huge prospective market on offer, there is a continuous need to come up with new innovative services.

Obviously, using LBS on a smartphone or similar mobile device requires the user’s location to be available quickly and accurately. Although A-GPS has been the main solution to this need for several years now, it has its limitations. It may work great in rural areas but often works less well, or not at all, in urban or in-building environments. Unfortunately, it’s in these environments where more and more LBS users want to use their applications. So it’s becoming more common to supplement A-GPS with other positioning methods, including A-GLONASS (which uses a Russian satellite system, similar to GPS) and WiFi. WiFi positioning makes use of a database of WiFi access points to calculate a user’s position. It can be very helpful in big metropolitan areas with a high density of WiFi access points, but is much less effective in rural areas. In order to get more accurate user location everywhere, hybrid positioning approaches are increasingly being used, which combine the capabilities of several technologies.

A-GPS uses assistance data received from the network to obtain a faster location calculation compared with GPS alone. The assistance and positioning data can be exchanged between the phone and the network over either the control plane or the user plane. A control plane implementation uses a dedicated control channel and this approach has been used for emergency services, such as the E911 mandate in the US. However, it also adds significant network overhead, due to the software and hardware changes needed to various network components to support the location-specific messages. So SUPL, or Secure User PLane has become more popular in recent years for non-critical commercial location applications.

With SUPL, assistance and positioning data is sent over the user’s traffic channel using a secure IP connection between the SET (SUPL enabled Terminal, such as a smartphone) and SLP (SUPL Location Platform) on the network side. It was developed by the OMA (Open Mobile Alliance), which is a body charged with developing open standards for the mobile industry. The first release of SUPL, which was launched few years ago, had some limitations. These included a lack of support for emergency services, as well as for the more recent positioning technologies such as A-GLONASS and WiFi. This meant there were drivers for development of a new, more powerful version of SUPL, recently released as SUPL 2.0. Some of the main drivers for SUPL 2.0 were:

  1. LTE: LTE is an IP-based network and in the US, E911 regulatory requirements will need to be supported on this. SUPL 2.0 is the most favored protocol to support location on LTE.
  2. Hybrid Positioning: As we discussed earlier, in many common scenarios use of one particular positioning method might not be sufficient to get an accurate and timely position. For example, GPS signals might not be available indoors and WiFi is often not very helpful in rural areas. To get a more accurate position everywhere, hybrid positioning approaches are increasingly used, which means using multiple technologies in combination. SUPL 2.0, with its support for multiple positioning methods, is the ideal technology to support this approach.
  3. Revenue Generation: New commercially-viable applications can generate more revenue for application developers, network operators, advertisers etc. The increased capabilities in SUPL 2.0 give application developers a strong base to build more applications and earn more revenue. It also enables additional opportunities for businesses through location-based advertising that can target specific customers based on their location. Also, if users of location-based services spend more time on the network because of new and exciting location-based services, this represents a revenue growth opportunity for operators.
  4. High Demand: New location-based applications are becoming huge hits, since they give more value to the user. There is a strong demand from users for more services based on position and evidence of a willingness to pay more for it.

So there are plenty of reasons to come up with a more robust location protocol like SUPL 2.0, and it wasn’t easy to decide on which new features it should supported. Many factors were kept into mind, like upcoming new positioning methods, new radio access technologies and other features that could benefit the users in the future. In our next post we’ll be looking at some of the new features that SUPL 2.0 has available to enable the growth of new, exciting location-based applications.


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