RealTime IT News

Skyhook Maps Wi-Fi Whereabouts

Skyhook Wireless is putting a global spin on Wi-Fi. The company has released software that uses Wi-Fi to turn notebooks and wireless handheld computers into global positioning systems (GPS).

The Loki software, now in beta, is based on Wi-Fi detection and location software used to match 802.11 wireless signals transmitted from a user's PC with hotspots.

Loki can map locations, pinpoint a particular event within a city or find a gas station with the lowest per-gallon costs. Users can also e-mail their locations to friends and associates trying to find them.

The software also provides a menu bar and selections that let you "geotag" a location or get a Wi-Fi view of the nearest movie theatre or restaurant.

This feature, CEO and founder Ted Morgan told internetnews.com, is useful to bloggers and creators of targeted content Web sites who normally have to use XML scripting to tag their whereabouts.

"We've been approached by a number of merchants who want to use the technology or lease space on the toolbar to pinpoint the nearest stores or operations," said Morgan.

There are more than 82,000 documented Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide, with about 40 percent of those located in the U.S., according to In-Stat.

But, the true number of consumer and business wireless access points is most likely in the tens of millions. Last year alone, for example, more than 140 million Wi-Fi chipset's were shipped and roughly 30 percent were used in wireless gateways and routers, In-Stat noted.

Skyhook mapped the location of these wireless routers in 100 cities by enlisting people across the country who engaged in "war-driving on steroids," Morgan explained.

These people used Wi-Fi-signal sniffing devices to collect the unique MAC address fingerprint from wireless access points. This data was then associated with the location information provided through GPS satellite systems.

The system also incorporates IP location technology developed by partner MaxMind to further validate a location and geographic data in the absence of multiple Wi-Fi signals, said Morgan.

The result is location-based information the company claims is accurate within 20 meters. The technology relies on a number of overlapping Wi-Fi signals rather than signals transmitted by satellite or cell towers, said a company spokesman.

Unlike GPS, the Wi-Fi-based location technology also works within buildings and with more accuracy within tightly congested city areas since there is usually no shortage of Wi-Fi transmitters in these places.

Newbury Networks also offers a location-based security technology that uses a proprietary architecture to map out the physical characteristics of an office or building and authorize or restrict wireless activity within that space.

The technology can also be use to block users from going outside or trying to get into a mapped area. However, Newbury targets enterprise and government customers.

Skyhook executives insist the plan is not to compete with GPS technology, but rather enhance the location-based experiences with a more granular solution. However, the company does have long-term plans to offer the technology and applications to wireless service providers and others.

"More people are using the Internet and searching for information and things to buy, and they want to know where these places are," said Morgan.