Location ‘holy grail’ features now offered by BlueVia

Now then, for years — YEARS — developers have been crying out for proper location APIs from mobile operators to use. Years. It got so bad that the unthinkable eventually happened — Nokia was forced to start including GPS chips in their handsets.

It was THAT bad.

And it was unthinkable because of the battery overhead. It was absolutely ridiculous — it still is. Try using GPS for any length of time on your handset and watch the battery drain in near-real time.

It was worse, of course, with the first generation handsets featuring GPS. It was functionally rubbish too. I remember being able to get a GPS fix on my N95 by leaving it on a wall for more than 10 minutes.

It’s still bad today. But one of the major reasons we have GPS chips in our phones is because the mobile operator couldn’t get it’s act together.

I use the phrase ‘mobile operator’ in a global sense. Way back in… oh, I dunno, say 2005 (from my rough memory), one of the leading aggregators of the day called me up to explain that ‘location’ was now possible.

“Just like SMS,” the guy said, “You just give us the phone number and we connect to the operator’s systems and boom, you’ll get the lat/lon coordinates back. Or a post code if you like.”

It sounded fantastic.

“Yeah, the networks just do a triangulation on the cell towers,” he explained, “It’s pretty smart.”

“When can I use it?” I asked, wondering if we could somehow integrate the technology into our nightclub text-to-screen systems. It would have been flipping genius.

“Well, they’re being strict about look-ups,” the chap continued, “So you’ll need to get explicit authorisation first from any users.”

That’s doable, I thought.

“Oh, and it’s 12 pence per lookup.”

You what?

He wasn’t kidding. There was some model that if we paid a stupidly expensive fixed sum, we could have ‘unlimited’ look-ups. But the dicks at the operator — and I do mean TOTAL NUMBSKULLS — decided that since SMS messages were flying off the shelves at 12p-a-pop, they might as well use precisely the same billing mechanism for the developers looking to access the facility.

I spoke to lots of companies who’d have used look-ups. I’d have used them day-in-day-out at our nightclub text service. It would have been invaluable. Geez, the applications, the possibilities.

But the revenue model wouldn’t work.

So we — that is, the market — went OTT. Over-the-top. Apple cracked it with their mix of “A-GPS” and Skyhook Wireless integration that made the whole thing work like magic.

And nobody used the mobile operator’s location look-up technology.

So it is with no small amount of delight that I report to you today that BlueVia, Telefonica’s developer arm, has now launched an all new location API to the existing wealth of capabilities. First — and most important — it’s entirely free. Second, it allows you to query a customer’s longitude, latitude, altitude, location accuracy and timestamp.

What are the implications of this? Well, it means that any application you’re currently considering for deployment on BlueVia can now make use of location (in the United Kingdom — I’m sure BlueVia will be aiming to extend this feature out to the other 6 supported countries soon).

However, I’d like developers to consider going one-step further. For example, if your application requires the use of GPS just to establish a ‘general’ location (e.g. High Street, Marlow), you can now opt to check if the user is an o2 customer using the BlueVia API. Just one API call. And if they are, store that information so that whenever you need to access their location, AVOID killing their battery and place a network lookup API call instead. Just for o2 customers. They’ll love you for it.

Now. There’s another application I’m thinking of — right away — that I want to see.

I use Google Latitude. I quite enjoy it. Sometimes it’s rather useful. But, unfortunately, there’s a stupid battery overhead. Thousands of well meaning mobile phone luvvies will claim it’s minimal. It’s not. It’s at least 5-8% I reckon. Of the day’s use. I can’t use it on my BlackBerry — I literally have to exit Google Maps manually every time I’m not using it so that my BlackBerry doesn’t leak battery through Google Maps.

On the iPhone, the battery impact is less pronounced but it’s STILL there. Maybe 5%. And 5%, when the handset can’t blow it’s nose without dropping 10% battery, is very important to me.

But I like Latitude. I like my friends and contacts knowing where I am.

So here’s my idea for the BlueVia API: A system that pings my location via the BlueVia API once per hour and feeds this information into Google Apps. Or even every 30 minutes. Who cares? It’s free! It’s a resource sitting there. o2 *ALREADY* knows where my phone is. There is NO battery impact. At all.


There are tons of possible uses for BlueVia’s new location API. It’s a shame it’s only available for o2 UK at the moment, but that’s still tens of millions of accessible users. And of course, it doesn’t matter what phone they use.

And just how easy is it to integrate into your code?

Watch this.

Or, read this, rather:

(You’ve already added the BlueVia library into your PHP/whatever script, right)

Screen shot 2011 06 09 at 21 50 02


LOVE it. LOVE it!

Get stuck in at bluevia.com.

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21 Responses to Location ‘holy grail’ features now offered by BlueVia

  1. Stephen Thair June 9, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    If the carriers just published the GPS location of every cell tower then it would be easy. 

    You can already get your current cell easy enough. eg. this is info from the http://www.3pmobile.com performance testing application. HTTP_X_5O9_ME_CELL_TOWER_CURRENT_TIME=>06/09/2011 04;45;26 PM GMT+01;00HTTP_X_5O9_ME_CELL_TOWER_CURRENT_ID=>GSM cid/30322063 lac/206 mcc/234 mnc/15HTTP_X_5O9_ME_CELL_TOWER_CURRENT_SIGNAL_STRENGTH=>11 asuHTTP_X_5O9_ME_CELL_TOWER_PREVIOUS_TIME=>06/09/2011 04;45;23 PM GMT+01;00HTTP_X_5O9_ME_CELL_TOWER_PREVIOUS_ID=>GSM cid/30322063 lac/206 mcc/234 mnc/15HTTP_X_5O9_ME_CELL_TOWER_PREVIOUS_SIGNAL_STRENGTH=>10 asuHTTP_X_5O9_ME_GPS_CURRENT_TIME=>06/09/2011 04;45;22 PM GMT+01;00HTTP_X_5O9_ME_GPS_CURRENT_LATITUDE=>51.236141324043274HTTP_X_5O9_ME_GPS_CURRENT_LONGITUDE=>-0.588192343711853HTTP_X_5O9_ME_GPS_CURRENT_ALTITUDE=>105.0HTTP_X_5O9_ME_GPS_CURRENT_SPEED=>0.0HTTP_X_5O9_ME_GPS_CURRENT_DIRECTION=>0.0HTTP_X_5O9_ME_GPS_PREVIOUS_TIME=>06/09/2011 04;44;58 PM GMT+01;00HTTP_X_5O9_ME_GPS_PREVIOUS_LATITUDE=>51.236141324043274HTTP_X_5O9_ME_GPS_PREVIOUS_LONGITUDE=>-0.588192343711853HTTP_X_5O9_ME_GPS_PREVIOUS_ALTITUDE=>105.0HTTP_X_5O9_ME_GPS_PREVIOUS_SPEED=>0.0HTTP_X_5O9_ME_GPS_PREVIOUS_DIRECTION=>0.0

  2. Ewan June 9, 2011 at 8:59 pm #

    agreed — although I’d like to be able to access it easily via an API a la

  3. Thomas June 9, 2011 at 10:08 pm #

    Although the first iteration of GPS on the N95 wasn’t that great, you should give Nokia credit for introducing A-GPS via a firmware update for the N95 in mid-2007 — a full year ahead of Apple..

  4. Ewan June 9, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    By all means Thomas of course, good point.

  5. Rod Burns June 10, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    How does this work from the perspective of different carriers? Does this only work on 02/Telefonica or can developers/consumers use it on any network? Sounds like a fantastic solution if it is not carrier specific.

  6. Ewan June 10, 2011 at 10:03 am #

    Rob, it will only work for o2/Telefonica customers. Unfortunately this kind
    of API is only a glint in the milkman’s eye for the majority of mobile
    operators right now. However it is definitely showing them the way.

  7. DominicTravers June 10, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    Great post, particularly the historical view of MNO strategy.

    Quick note on Latitude on Android (I can’t really speak for using it on BB and iOS) Google have their own records of where a vast majority of the worlds cell towers are, so my phone triangulates from them itself rather than using GPS. Latitude on Android only uses GPS when you have it fired up to use maps or navigation. I have the service on constantly and can’t say that I see any battery impact from it. 

    The thing that I really love about this cell triangulation record is seeing it historically my latitude history. EU law requires that your service provider keep pretty much the same record of your movements just in case the police, or a bewilderingly large range of government organisations and quangos request this data. Latitude history by triangulation alone gives a very good approximation of this record. 

  8. Ewan June 10, 2011 at 10:32 am #

    Dominic, thank you for the correction regarding Latitude on Android.
    Ultimately there’s still a (limited) data connection having to take place
    between the phone and the network though, right?

  9. DominicTravers June 10, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    From what I have been seeing on the frequency of the location points in my history, latitude takes it’s reading at the same time as another data transaction from the phone. An app polling or email arriving will trigger the reading. Busy days on the phone result in many more latitude readings than days with email synch switched off. The synch off button is not often used, but never the less one of my my favourite parts of the whole Android UX.

  10. Ewan June 10, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    Ah that’s pretty nicely integrated!

    I still very much like the concept of zero overhead — i.e. the network
    doing the job rather than my handset!

  11. DominicTravers June 10, 2011 at 10:47 am #

    Absolutely… The Android integration is tight, and pleases me greatly. The Bluevia location API delivery is fantastic. Given the team they have in there, I’m expecting more and more brilliance as they continue with their revolutionary mandate…

  12. DominicTravers June 10, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    I know that other carriers have developer API programmes in progress, but they are stymied by a lack of internal support/understanding and strategic freedom. Telefonica have really accelerated their programme over the last year, and as a result are disappearing over the competitive horizon…

  13. Christopher Gersbo June 10, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    I have had the exact same experience regarding mobile operator’s stance on location. The worst I have experienced was an operator rep telling us they had the capability, but unfortunately no business model for making it available to 3rd parties. This was 3 years ago and still no show.

  14. Ewan June 10, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    Christopher, I’m so pleased you commented! Thank you. It’s good to know I wasn’t the only one banging my head against the wall!

  15. be honest June 10, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    will you tell us whether you are a client of telefonica, o2 or bluevia. this what people who are promoting shares are expectdd to do.

  16. Ewan June 10, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    I think what you mean to ask is, “Are you being paid to write by Telefonica
    and if so, shouldn’t you declare it?”

    When the post or video is marked ‘supported by SOMEONE’ or ‘sponsored by
    SOMEONE’ then, yes — MIR has received some money to contribute toward the
    production of those posts.

    Here is an example of a sponsored BlueVia video:

    Here is an example of a sponsored Qualcomm post:

    Here is an example of a sponsored Net-Mobile post:

    Here is an example of a sponsored Amdocs post:

    You can clearly see the “video series supported by SOMEBODY” image. As you
    can see, there’s a whole host of companies that help sponsor content.

    I wrote this location post last night because I wanted to.

    There’s some more BlueVia supported content coming soon to MIR in the form
    of the Mobile Developer Titan Series. That too will be marked appropriately.

  17. kgutteridge June 13, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

    On Android theres a passive location provider you can register for, so that any other time the system does a location dip it also notifies your location, hence why things like latitude will update when you open the camera etc
    Still doing this on the network is a lot better as works for everything  (assuming your registered and auth’d for Bluevia)

  18. Kevsy July 14, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Agreed, Bluevia are great guys and doing well. There’s also OneAPI available (in Canada now, but more soon)  which is a spec available for any operator to implement. Easy sandbox example here: http://onemorefortheroad.heroku.com/index.html .

  19. Ewan July 14, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    Ah yes excellent!

  20. StealthGenie August 2, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    Ohh man! I’m having the same problem; seems like I’m not the only one in trouble. Anyway this battery issue due to GPS connectivity is big issue bothering.


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