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Boston’s Skyhook Wireless maps the physical meatspace world so your smartphone can know its location in a minute without slow GPS satellite fixes August 23, 2010

Posted by HubTechInsider in Mobile Software Applications, Startups, Wireless Applications.
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Boston’s Skyhook Wireless maps the physical meatspace world so your smartphone can know its location in a minute without slow GPS satellite fixes and tap into the new wave of nascent geo-location services.

Skyhook Wireless software loads onto mobile telephones and other portable devices like netbook computers and tablet computers and in most urban city locations can pinpoint a user’s location within 60 feet, obtaining a position fix in around one to two minutes, much faster than traditional GPS, or Global Positioning Systems, are able to obtain positive location information or even connect, while inside buildings.

When a Skyhook-enabled smartphone checks on its location, it will use the Skyhook Wireless software to scan for nearby cellular towers, Wi-Fi hotspots and available GPS satellites. The smartphone then sends that data to a Skyhhok Wireless server and within seconds can get a positive position fix on where in the world that smartphone is. This three-pronged approach is superior in the field in many instances for obtaining a position as opposed to reliance on GPS alone, which can take minutes to obtain a position fix.

But Skyhook Wireless must continuously update its location database as people move and new hotspots emerge and cease. The biggest challenge is not getting the data, it is managing the chaos that surrounds the shifting database of location-fixing data.

Skyhook Wireless software is part of a thriving emerging market for location-based services. These services include mobile social networks like Facebook Places, Gowalla and Foursquare, which enable “checking in” and broadcasting your location information to friends, announcing, for example, your arrival at a neighborhood restaurant.

To make this possible, Skyhook Wireless has amassed a database of more than 50 billion scanned records of Wi-Fi, cellular tower and GPS signals. This “map” of locations captures nearly 80% of the geographic areas in which the population of the US lives and works daily. In order to gather all of this information, Skyhook Wireless, on any given day, employs 500 drivers to cruise around with laptops and wireless antennas that read Wi-Fi and other signals and correlate them with locations. The company’s ultimate goal is to obtain baseline scans of all the roads and cities across the entire globe.

Skyhook Wireless has among its customers the manufacturers of mobile phones and other consumer devices. Skyhook Wireless software is installed in tens of millions of consumer gadgets, including some netbook computers, cameras, and until very recently, every iPhone, iPad and iPod that Apple shipped. In April, Apple began using its own location data it had been collecting for this purpose over years of iPhone use. In July of this year, Skyhook Wireless inked a deal with Samsung for its smartphones and has agreements with Motorola and Dell as well.

Licensing Skyhook Wireless technology can cost as much as $2 per device. Forbes magazine estimated the company’s 2009 revenues at $25 Million. Skyhook Wireless has around 35 emplyees, was founded in 2003, and has raised around $17 Million from investors to date.

Skyhook Wireless is competing against Apple, Inc., as mentioned previously in this article, as well as giants Google and Nokia, which have both also developed and acquired similar services that use multiple locataion data inputs, like Wi-Fi hotspots for mobile location fixing. It may be significant that in April of this year, Motorola choose to license the Skyhook Wireless technology rather than use Google’s free location software.

The CEO of Skyhook Wireless is Ted Morgan, age 43, the company’s founder.
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