Location Based Question: How good is it in the country?

If I’m sat in the countryside, you know, the middle of nowhere, and you do a LBS lookup on me, what’s the accuracy?

500m? What’s it like in central London? 50m?

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

6 replies on “Location Based Question: How good is it in the country?”

50m? You’ll be lucky. In central London, you are looking at a radius of about 100 – 200m. In the country you are looking at anything up to 2 miles radius of accuracy.

The problem in the UK is that the operators to not triangualte based on the signal strength of the towers you are connected to. You will only get one of the tower’s you are connected to.

Try it out on BuddyPing Ewan, if you do a lookup, see where you are on the map. It will be the true long/lat of the tower you are connected to. Walk about 50/100m away, do another lookup. You will find that 9 times out of 10, it comes back with the same long/lat as you are still connected to the same tower.

I did a comparison with LBS services offered by the operators, and they return the same information. This is the simplest and cheapest LBS infrastructure you can get. If you want more information on LBS and what is available worldwide from a technological point of view, take a look at the developer docs for LBS on These guys provide the infrastructure that the operators use for LBS…

yes we’ve been providing LBS services to businesses for 4 years now (our Good Pub Guide find my nearest is in it’s fourth year and was the first national service across all Operators that provide LBS) and in all that time the accuracy the Operators give us has not changed one bit.

Basically as Justin says, they send back the exact grid coordinates of the mast you are connecting to. Nothing smarter than that I’m afraid. But still, it has so much great potential and LBS still has its time to come – although I imagine it’ll be GPS based very soon on most handsets.


It’s not as simple as ‘in the country’ or ‘in the city’… the location returned by the UK operators is simply that of the cell antenna your phone is currently registered with. They also provide an accuracy estimate, which is simply the range that they think that antenna can cover.

I’ve seen accuracy in London down to 50m or better, when you’re registered with a pico-cell inside a conference centre or tube station (for example).

The worst I’ve seen in the countryside is 18km, but I have also seen it as good as 200m.

There is a lack of interest, and therefore investment, in LBS from the UK networks. Realistically, to improve the accuracy of the results by a significant factor requires software running on the mobile device which can do the triangulation calculations. There are a few companies that have researched this, although I’ve found that at best they’re talking about halving the area of uncertainty.

GPS will help, and it’s beginning to appear – XDA Orbit and the Nokia N95. But even the most sensitive GPS receivers need a fairly good view of the sky (it isn’t going to work inside buildings) which is a shame, because GSM doesn’t. Leaving the GPS switched on isn’t going to do much for battery life either.


BuddyPing’s LBS isn’t that accurate — from home, it either shows me a mile away in a location I’m fairly sure *is* a mast or 3/4 of a mile away in the middle of a park where there’s definitely no mast.

Maybe it’s just Orange feeding dodgy co-ordinates?

One more thing…

Vodafone have gone one better – the results they return describe the area of uncertainty in better detail – they can define the shape of it as a circle, polygon or more usually, an arc (pie-slice) for directional antennas found near motorways and railways.

Whether this information is actually useful for the majority of LBS applications is questionable, but their efforts are welcome.


hmm, that’s odd. Vodafone spent a lot of money a couple of years ago upgrading its LBS kit on the 2G network, to a far greater degree of accuracy than cell ID. At the time it was able to say it had the most accurate LBS positioning of any network, which was very important to all the telematics customers it has, I understand.

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