Sunday, December 2, 2007

Local Search via WiFi - SkyHook

Ted Morgan, President & CEO of SkyHook presented at Kelsey’s ILM ’07 conference this past week.

What is it
Skyhook is a WiFi Positioning System (WPS). It’s location platform uses existing 802.11 radio (WiFi frequency) to deliver accurate positioning. WiFi has proliferated over the past 5 years. Tens of millions of access points have been deployed privately, corporately and publicly. Each one of these access points sends a signal beacon announcing its existence to the surrounding area. The beacon travels between 150-200 meters in all directions.

Due to the shear volume of beacons, the overlap of their signals creates a natural reference system for determining location. Skyhook’s system can locate up to a 20m accuracy level (to date, unparalleled). Currently the service works across the US but Skyhook plans to map the globe with their system.

Looking at Skyhook’s coverage map, it’s reminiscent of a cellular coverage map. The platform works extremely well within densely populated urban centers. As the purpose for the deployment of WiFi access points is mainly to provide high-speed wireless coverage inside public and private buildings, WPS has excellent coverage and performance indoors. These attributes distinguish WPS from other satellite or terrestrial positioning systems, which struggle to deliver positioning information in urban and indoor environments.

Skyhook’s software application is called Loki. The application allows you to quickly find location-dependent content. The content includes weather, movies playing nearby and local news. Local ads are incorporated into the content and AdSense ads runs along the sidebar. Today, about 500,000 people have downloaded Loki. Skyhook is obviously counting on more to come.

Access - Most mobile devices lack native positioning systems or rely on technologies that struggle in densely populated and indoor environments. As a software-only system, WPS addresses these issues by offering the highest indoor availability and the best overall urban reliability of any existing location platform.

Accuracy – 20M is not bad considering GPSs limitations in this area. Google just launched MyLocation, a mobile mapping tool that triangulates your location based on your distance to cell towers.
But the technology is only accurate within 1000 meters on average. The only advantage Google may have at this point is its coverage outside of urban areas where WiFi is less likely to exist for the next few years.

Strong Markets – the fact that the network is strongest in densely populated urban areas gives Skyhook a good opportunity for quick penetration. Its accuracy in these areas will go a long way to winning satisfied customers.

General Thoughts
Location based content has been used for a number of applications. One of the more entertaining ones described by Ted Morgan, President & CEO of SkyHook was for mobile gaming. Capture the Flag for example is a popular game in Manhattan, where connected players claim certain city blocks as their own until conquered by opponents. Gaming is coming up more and more these days. I’ll follow-up on this topic and how advertising relates later. But Morgan went on to say that the true killer application for this platform was navigation (maps) and local search.

The biggest challenge will be to get the right content partnerships. Currently, it’s unclear what SkyHook’s strategy is. On the one hand, it has an excellent platform for targeting and on the other it has its Loki software.

The software is in beta and has a lot of development to go. It’s channels are somewhat limited and rather than providing a directory, it’s clear that there are selected content partners populating the site. One gets the feeling that there’s a lot missing. Also, similar to Facebook, it feels like there’s a lot of downloading to be done. Mini-applications are required to gain access to cool features.

Another one to watch…

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