Landmarks in Finder Services

Today, some telecom operators offer a Family and Friend finder type of service where mobile phones may be located by text message. For operators, Finder Services are generating attractive revenue growth that can be easily boosted by marketing. For customers, Finder Services have become practical and functional part of ordinary safety management.

In emerging countries, where the numbers of mobile phone users are growing the fastest, Finder Services do not serve the operators very well as they must meet local needs more precisely and be customized in a way that masses get real value experience. The services have three important elements that determine whether the client's user experience will be good or bad: price, ease of use and location data quality. Ultimately the quality of location data determines how well such a service works for the end-user: It works just as good as the reference location data is.

Normally Finder Services use GIS-data (Geographical Information System, geographical database) provided by the operator or a local GIS data company. Finder Services and GIS data reconciliation has proven to have number of problems which limit Finder service quality and user experience in emerging countries.

GIS data provides a variety of elements that can be used for referencing the location in Finder services: POI data (Point-on-Interest type of information), addresses or map visualization. 

  1. No one has used POI data successfully in Finder services. The main problem with POI data is the choice of an appropriate data from huge quantity on data: You need to choose just the right POI element to define a wide area, and this requires a lot of local knowledge and understanding of the POI data theories and capture methodologies. Another problem is availability of reliable and updated POI data in emerging countries.
  2. Local addresses work reasonably well in “developed countries” where well-defined and harmonized address databases are available and people understand and use exact addresses. In emerging markets, addresses do not work at all in Finder services. Addresses of GIS data are not completed (if there is any) and harmonized, and customers do not have any tradition to use or even understand addresses.
  3. In some Finder services, location is also visualized in a digital map, especially in Internet use. This works quite well, but location accuracy is never good and highly generalized. This method requires plenty of understanding, knowledge and interpretation of the maps that customers usually are lack of in emerging countries. Ease of use is also compromised with maps as one needs to zoom in and out to read the map. Only some of the phones support traditional map visualization.

In addition, there are a Finder services that do not use any external location database references, but simply gives name to each cell coverage area or cell-id. The cell-id itself provide a location reference for the mobile phone. This method is simple but if location names are not systematically well developed, end-user will not understand location.  This system also doesn’t support more accurate location technologies beyond plain cell-id and the bigger the network the more complex it becomes to maintain and make sure that the location names work for the end-users. There are plenty of cases where this has failed and are not aware of any successes with this method.

Therefore GIS-data and cell-id naming does not provide sufficient technical solution for the location referencing of Finder services - But Landmarks do - the best and the most natural solution. Finder services and landmarks are a good example of how the two things can be combined to a workable solution that is more than the sum of its parts.

A single carefully selected landmark can almost perfectly define the area of one cell-id

Landmarks are accurate, their designation and selection is made in a way that the locals understand and recognize them. Landmarks define spatially suitable sized areas, which correlate well with the areas that operators’ cell sites cover. Furthermore, if there is a lot of human activity, there is also a high cell site and landmark density, in rural areas sparser but in the same proportion.

Landmarks as a location reference are also a scalable solution. Operator's network have a more precise location determining technology, landmarks may be still the same as they have already been selected to define the specific area, no matter how accurately operator network technology determines the location. There are always more landmarks than sell sites. 

Finder services need to provide up-to-data location references. Since landmarks are carefully selected and justified, updating is much easier and faster than for GIS data references; In GIS data updating, all elements are usually updated simultaneously for the one area. Gecko Landmarks is committed to update all global landmarks every 6 months.

Finder services are based on the principles that the location of every mobile phone will be determined as accurately as possible, and the location is provided in a way that everyone locally understands and has real every day value. These principles can be met only with landmarks as a location reference – Landmarks enables Finder services for masses in emerging markets.