Version 1.6 | Datum 06/10/2009

Joël Muller



Mobile Location Services (MLSs)

Overview of actual services and the future of the technology

MLS - what is it ?

MLSs exploit the geographical location of a mobile phone in order to provide either information, transactions or interaction. The potential of this technology is huge: this is a great opportunity for the development of the mobile market.

However obstacles remain such as the technology itself and above all the privacy issues. Is the consumer ready to accept to be located? What services are or will be offered? Is there a real need? How do enterprises base their business on mobile location services? These questions will be developed in this article.

How it works

lauch flash animation


The Handy Finder

Let’s start with a concrete example: Handy Finder from Viag Interkom (
Imagine you have let your mobile somewhere but you don’t remember exactly where. With the “Handy Finder” you are able to locate it through the Internet. Connect to, enter your Viag Interkom mobile phone number, your pin and a map will appear telling you (approximately 100 meters) where your handy is. To prevent misuses, a sms is directly sent to your device in order to know that someone is trying to locate it. The costs are 0.19 EUR. Once your handy is found, your are directly able to block your SIM card to prevent outgoing calls.

fig01: Handy Finder, SMS

The precision of the service is amazing, they should be no privacy problem as you actually receive a SMS telling you that you are “tracked”. On the Internet you get your password through SMS as well. Watch the video for more information about Handy Finder.

Corporate Eye Online

Back to another concrete case: CEO (Corporate Eye Online). It provides detailed information on vehicle and fleet movements within the UK and mainland Europe. CEO is an Internet-based application from Vodafone Corporate Limited.

Corporate Eye Online does not require any other software loaded on to a PC to enable vehicle tracking and management. If you have access to the Internet, then you can have access to Corporate Eye Online. Vehicles can also be tracked directly from a standard GSM Mobile phone that can receive SMS.

Corporate Eye Online  

fig02: Map Scales

UK 1/2,500 street level UK.
Europe 12 Scales, between: 1/250,000 and 1/25,000,000.


One of the benefit is the security for drivers and vehicles; imagine that a car has been stolen; thanks to this application you are able to locate your vehicles and even know the speed of it. Other benefits are of course for logistic companies which can be in real time aware of where the trucks are. As you get through mail automatic reports, you gain a great amount of time as well.

E911 and Mobile Location Services

More than profit-making MLS may also be a way of saving lives. In the United State the federal government has imposed the deployment of Enhanced 911 (E911) for emergency services, forcing mobile operators to provide highly accurate and reliable location information.

Because the ability to locate a caller is a significant investment for the wireless telecommunications carrier, wireless carriers are keen to provide their shareholders with a return on investment by implementing revenue-generating commercial MLS and leveraging these services to attract new customers and reduce churn.

The MapInfo® Location Management Platform (LMP), for example, is used to enhance a carrier's 911 service by automatically routing an emergency call to an appropriate Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) for handling and dispatch. Once the technology is installed on the carrier's network, the LMP can be used for additional Mobile Location Services, including:
Location-based billing: Carriers can identify the location of the caller and charge the call at the rate for that location. Carriers can attract customers with special "home" or "work" billing zones, or can establish promotional zones for introductory offers and special events.

The LMP processes the data representing the location of the mobile caller. For E911, the location data is used to route the mobile call to the appropriate emergency call center based on what public safety answering point (PSAP) the call originates from. For a location-based billing service, the LMP determines if the caller's location is within a designated phone rate area.

In this E911 example, the combination between profit and non-profit-making is used in order to provide the best reliable location service. This case illustrates how an enterprise can build a MLS business model and in the same time providing precious information that has nothing to deal with the firm activities. By 2005, about 50 percent of mobile subscribers in the US will be covered by highly accurate location technology.

MLS market

MLS and especially commercial MLS are still based on simple positioning mechanism supported by most of the phones. In the future any device for enabled for wireless communication will be able to locate with increasing accuracy. A large range of applications and services will emerge to enable and business for enterprises.

“The always-on society will become a location-aware society” Monica Basso [Gartner]

The Asian markets, where MLSs are already available, show promising signs, although the technology has not been adopted that widely by mobile consumers and enterprises. More than 50 mobile operators (with more than 300 million subscribers) worldwide are offering or testing MLS. In Europe, operators such as E-plus and Sonera have launched commercial trials to test market reaction.

The mobile market might develop through a complex ecosystem of players, with business models centered around mobile operators. This ecosystem is complex and very crowded, and a consolidation process will take place through 2004. In the short term, little revenue will be available for any of the players, and mobile operators will continue to dominate.


Three different concrete examples have been seen, the first one, “Handy Finder”, provides a direct service for the costumers, however the costs are not high enough to build a business model on it. The second, “Corporate Eye Online”, is a real business model and the benefits are tangible for enterprises and customers. The last example, “E911”, is the frailest because mobile operators are allowed to provide commercials through MLS just because they also offer an important social activity.

The MLS providers will have to create a need for customer in order to develop the service and show a profit. This need will have to be stronger than the reserve from most of the people. Patrons do not want to be tracked, but if the companies find good enough arguments that overtake this fear, the customer realizes the advantage and the technology survives.

Mobile location technology may bring value to users, but if the real benefits are not made clear from the very beginning, there is the risk that this new technology may simply raise apprehensions and generate a negative attitude in the emerging market. Let’s bet that in the future, the “Guess where I’m calling you from?” might disappear!


[SVM]: Sciences et Vie Micro; Magazine no 206, France, juillet-août 2002

Extern links [Handy Finder] [E911] [flash animation]