In 2017, several advances propelled location services forward. Geospatial services APIs became more commonplace when Pitney Bowes and Microsoft Azure introduced and expanded their services, respectively. Popular mobile apps such as Snapchat added map-based features, while Facebook and Twitter encouraged their users to add location tags to posts. And the Pokémon Go craze introduced many consumers to the concept of place-based augmented reality (AR). Amid all this growth, there were also disappointments, not the least of which was the poor quality of location data used by the advertising industry.
In 2018, the value of location-based services to enterprises will become exceptionally clear, especially for those in industries with direct consumer contact like retail, hospitality, travel, transportation and advertising. The confluence of technology and business trends means that knowing your customer – and your employees and mobile assets – can now include knowing their location at just about any moment. It’s time for enterprises to evaluate how they can better use location services to improve and grow their business.
Here are the five main reasons to consider location-based services and applications in 2018:
1. The introduction and expansion of 5G networks will enable more mobile interaction opportunities. The large telecom carriers are planning rollouts of the latest in wireless broadband connectivity. Fifth-generation or 5G wireless promises higher capacity, more reliability, lower latency and improved coverage than its predecessors. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a critical use case for the technology, and 5G will improve positioning to sub-meter accuracy to support even highly accurate 3D location estimates. These improvements will support not only autonomous vehicles but also in-place applications, such as intelligent traffic systems. 5G will also require network densification, meaning more equipment including mini-towers will be selectively placed. The placement of this equipment relies on geospatial analysis with tools such as those from Esri, for example, to keep appropriate distances from residences.
2. Mobile ad networks will improve data quality and further embrace geofencing. Poor location data is a known problem in mobile advertising, with some estimating as much as 70 percent of user-location data in advertising suffering insufficient quality for effective ad targeting. Plus, there’s no way to know which ads work and which don’t. To grow, the industry needs quality location data flowing through the system, serving the right ads to the right people at the right time in the right places. Points of interest (POI) data will progress via crowdsourcing and better validation approaches. In 2018, the industry will favour quality data sources, so they can improve results for marketers spending unprecedented amounts of money trying to get people into their stores.
3. Drones will continue to improve while dropping in price. Insurance and utilities companies are deploying drones to facilitate inspections of infrastructure and buildings and evaluate necessary repairs and insurance claims. For example, DJI and DroneDeploy are collaborating to leverage on-board cameras and smartphone-based flight control and programming so that drones can quickly create composite photographs with enough detail to evaluate roof and yard damage without the need for an on-site inspector. Drones not only help in making maps, they use geo-positioning to operate, collecting data with geotags from onboard sensors. Drone technologies will continue to improve quickly in 2018. Commercial uses need longer flights, which manufacturers will address using energy sources including solar and hydrogen fuel cells. The biggest question mark remains how governments will regulate commercial drones.
4. AR applications will be more visible. Some of the innovations around AR are becoming mainstream – going beyond games into travel, retail, training and field service applications. As we walk around in the physical world, we experience it with our five senses. With some forms of AR, we can improve upon those senses with information from a digital reality – an alternate reality where we can keep online personas, access information and communicate. The thinking is that we can improve our ability to function in the physical world by adding digital context, such as reviews of restaurants, social streams or even haptic feedback to build a “digital-aided sense” of the world around us. The reality we augment is our personal space, and that space has specific location parameters. So, location positioning is a critical underpinning of AR technologies and applications. Also happening in 2018: the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) are calling for sponsors for an upcoming AR pilot project that seeks to advance W3C and OGC standards related to AR.
5. Indoor location services will show value in early implementations. While it’s straightforward to obtain a person’s position outside with their mobile devices, most people spend a majority of their time indoors – where determining position using traditional positioning technologies is difficult. The Holy Grail of location services is to provide a customer experience appropriate for and unique to each person according to where they are – outdoors or indoors. Potential use cases abound for indoor implementations – in retail, hospitality, transportation, museums, events, restaurants, real estate, emergency management, intelligent buildings / facilities management, workplace services and healthcare. Indoor location services are also essential to the expansion of the IoT, as seen in emerging applications such as HERE Tracking, a cloud-based platform as a service (PaaS) for low-energy, high-accuracy and real-time tracking of goods, devices and people both indoors and outdoors.
Enterprises looking to improve their digital business practices will embrace location services in 2018 as part of critical applications they use to serve their customers, employees and partners. Best value will result from understanding the data sources and how they fit into the digital fabric of the enterprise. For enterprises to tackle the five trends above, they must first learn about the technologies and align them with business needs. Then they must participate in standards efforts and legislation discussions to help ensure real-world perspectives are heard. And insist that data providers clearly elucidate sources and methods. Lastly, enterprises in 2018 should acknowledge the importance of place in their business models, adding and using location services to improve how they do business.