Seeker Wireless fixed mobile convergence breakthrough
Seamless integration with fixed network services is the goal of many mobile operators, but available solutions all have major shortcomings. An Australian wireless location specialist claims to have come up with technology that addresses these.
The solution developed by Seeker Wireless in essence relies on a small application running in the cellphone which is ableto determine its location by measuring the relative strengths of all the base stations within range. The handset then reports back into the network when, and only when, it is moved into or out of the home zone.
This enable the operator to apply the appropriate tariff and other service parameters of the converged offering, but without massive investment in additional technology and without loading up its network and central systems to manage the determination of the handset’s location.
Andrew Grill, the company’s general manager and head of global sales, told iTWire: “We’ve developed a convergent solution that uses existing handsets to detect if you are in a “home zone” to within a few hundred metres and we’re taking the telco world by storm – having signed a contract with a mobile operator.
“Our solution is simple – an applet on a SIM card provides the handset (once registered with a HomeZone) live, accurate zone detection displayed on the handset idle screen and zone changes sent back to a server (and them passed to an intelligent network or billing platform) only when the subscriber moves – massively reducing signalling traffic.”
Grill was speaking to iTWire the day prior to his relocation to the UK to head up the company’s European office. “The operators we’re speaking to in Europe ‘get’ our concept,” he claimed.
Presently cellular operators wanting to offer converged services and compete with cheaper fixed network services use more basic location technology such as the ‘home’ base station to determine the home zone, or employ converged technologies, such as WiFi/cellular or bluetooth/cellular.
An emerging technology is femtocells: very small base stations that are part of the cellular
network but located in the customer’s home and backhauled over the customer’s broadband link. According to Grill, none of these are entirely satisfactory.
“The Orange AU service used Cell-ID so the zones were huge [resulting in] massive revenue leakage [with calls that should have been charged at mobile rates being charged at lower ‘home zone’ rates]. Maintenance of the HomeZone as base stations change etc…was a major issue in the Orange solution.”
Dual mode solutions require the operator to supply a new and more costly dual mode handset (and the choice of these is much more limited than of pure cellular handsets.)
“Femtocells are one option to improve coverage, but the backhaul and provisioning of thousands of new base stations is a nightmare and it means there is something the subscriber must provision in their home. And if they make a mistake, customer care gets another call),” Grill said.
The Seeker approach has received a strong endorsement from market research company Ovum. In an independent review of the technology, senior analyst, Carrie Pawsey, wrote: “We are impressed with the Seeker solution and the story it is presenting to mobile operators. If the homezone technology solution is able to deliver on the promises made, then we expect to see a lot of interest from mobile operators.
“This solution enables the mobile operators to compete against the FMC solutions being offered by the integrated and fixed operators. There is less upfront investment required than when implementing unlicensed mobile access (UMA) or other FMC solutions. As the solution is based on the SIM card there is no new equipment for the operator to subsidise and the homezone service is compliant with almost all existing handsets in the customer base (It is able to run on any handsets up to six years old).”
Ovum did express reservations about Seeker’s ability, with only 20 employees, to meet any significant demand, and noted also that the scalability of the technology remained untested.
Seeker Wireless is privately funded and has received investments totally about $7.8 million to date. Its CEO is Dr Chris Drane, former vice president of UK-based mobile position technology specialist, Cambridge Positioning Systems (CPS). Its roots, however, are firmly Australian: it had its origins in the University of Technology, Sydney.
In 2000 CPS acquired patents from and recruited two members of a UTS research team, headed by Drane, that claimed to have been one of the first in the world to demonstrate accurate location in GSM networks. The two team members moved to the UK. UTS’s commercial arm, Insearch Technology Development, took an equity stake in CPS as part of this deal. A year later CPS set up an R&D unit in Sydney, to be headed by Drane then a professor in the of the Faculty of Engineering at UTS.
The CPS solution at that time relied on triangulating the location of the handset from nearby base stations by observing the difference in signal transit times between the handset and the base stations. This could, potentially give a highly accurate location but is much more technically complex that the Seeker solution: the location cannot be determined by the handset alone.