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Skyhook combines GPS and Wi-Fi for location

Skyhook Wireless adds GPS to its geolocation technology so useres can get accurate location information whereever they are.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read

Skyhook Wireless announced Monday that it is integrating GPS into its geolocation service to get an even more accurate fix for location-based services.

Up until now, Skyhook's geolocation service, which is used on Apple's iPhone, among other services and devices, has used Wi-Fi hot spots to get a fix on location. The service works very well in densely populated areas where there are a lot of Wi-Fi radios transmitting signals. And it's great for locating places indoors or in cities with a lot of tall buildings, all places where satellite-based GPS, or Global Positioning System, technology has difficulty getting a location fix.

But for all of the benefits of Wi-Fi, it doesn't work in rural areas where hot spots are few and far between. This is where the GPS technology comes in.

"Our technology works great in populated areas," said Ted Morgan, co-founder and CEO of Skyhook. "But on the open road it's more difficult. Now with GPS integrated, iPhone users, for example, can get turn-by-turn navigation anywhere they go."

The way the Skyhook service originally worked is that it would triangulate and get a fix on location-based data on known Wi-Fi hot spots. The company has a database of where Wi-Fi hot spots all over the country are located. Specifically, it uses the Mac address, a unique identifier that every piece of hardware on the Internet must have, to identify the router, and it matches that identifier with the location. Using multiple signals in the same geographic location, the Skyhook technology is able to pinpoint a location.

Now Skyhook has integrated GPS into its technology, which it is putting in chipsets that go into mobile phones and other devices that also have GPS recievers. GPS will allow Skyhook to cover more ground with its geolocation technology. The Wi-Fi/GPS technology should also help services that used GPS only to get information about location more quickly. Because GPS uses three or four low-orbiting satellites to pinpoint a location, it can take a few seconds before it's able to calculate a location. Skyhook's Wi-Fi technology can get location information much faster.

So where might we see this new technology? The original Wi-Fi-based Skyhook technology is already on the iPhone. Morgan couldn't say for sure that the new "hybrid" Wi-Fi/GPS technology will be used on the iPhone 3G that comes out next week. But one of the upgrades in the new iPhone 3G is the addition of a GPS chip, so it would make sense that the Skyhook technology would be used on it. Morgan did say that Apple has access to all of its technology.