Location Based Solution with Natural Area Coding System

Current wireless location based services are growing much slower than expected. One of the major problems is the inefficiency of geographic coordinates such as longitude/latitude and UTM. These coordinates require more than 20 characters at a resolution of meters that are difficult for people to remember and communicate. They are also difficult to be displayed on and input into small wireless devices. All these make geographic coordinates nearly useless to general consumers.

Consumers remain using traditional addresses and place names to access location based services. These addresses and place names are long character strings that require many keys to input, and sometimes, they include special or foreign characters that can’t be directly input on a cellphone key pad. The wide variations of address formats also make it impossible to develop reliable algorithms to handle all addresses, which lead to frequent failures in handling addresses. The inconvenience and failures have significantly reduced the attractiveness of wireless location based services.

All these problems can be solved by the Natural Area Coding System. This article proposed five wireless location based services enhanced with the Natural Area Coding System:

  • Universal Address lookup service
  • GPS enhanced cellphone
  • Wireless driving directions service
  • Wireless map service
  • Wireless location based search service

Enhanced with the Natural Area Coding System, users need to input only eight characters (Universal Address) instead of a more than forty character traditional address to specify any location on the earth, and four characters (Natural Area Code) instead of country, province and city names to specify any area in the world. Moreover, Universal Addresses and Natural Area Codes are in alphanumeric characters, they can be input on all cellphones to eliminate the difficulty of inputting addresses and place names with special or foreign characters. Universal Addresses are available everywhere on the earth surface that allows people to access location based services even for temporary camping sites where there are no addresses at all. Similarly, Natural Area Codes can help people to specify any areas in the world for wireless location based services, no matter where they are and whether they have names or not.

More than 80% saving of input keys and language independence brought by the Natural Area Coding System will significantly improve all wireless location based services in efficiency, reliability and completion.

However, this technology has two barriers to overcome before it liberates great power. The first barrier is vast public awareness. If people don’t know the technology and its advantages, they will not use any features brought by the technology, and all these services will not have any advantages because of the introduction of the technology. The second barrier is wide availability of Universal Addresses. If people don’t know their Universal Addresses, they still can’t benefit from the advantages of the technology either.

To overcome these two barriers, it requires great influence and comprehensive services that most small or medium size companies are not able to accomplish. Therefore, only large companies with large influence in the society and providing mass communication services can achieve the goal. An ideal candidate is a large telecommunication company which provides both wireless location based services and telephone catalogs for fixed phones.

Telephone companies in North America have already had longitude/latitude coordinates for every fixed telephone that are provided to emergency services in 911 calls. It will be a small work for these companies to list Universal Addresses together with fixed telephone numbers and addresses on all telephone catalogs, using a simple conversion program to convert longitude/latitude into Universal Addresses. Since telephone catalogs are delivered to every home every year, it can rapidly create wide availability of Universal Addresses. Therefore, all people can obtain their Universal Addresses immediately, and include them on their business cards, advertisements, correspondences, tourist guides, etc.

Due to great influence of a large telecommunication company, the introduction of such a revolutionary technology will generate wide coverage of the technology and its enhanced services on all media: newspapers, magazines, television, radio, Internet, etc. This wide coverage will create vast awareness in the public. This will be even more intensely in Japan because the Introduction of the Natural Area Coding System will not only benefit wireless location based services, but also revolutionize Japanese address systems. Unlike Western address systems, Japanese addresses are comprised of prefecture, city, ward, district, chome, subsection of chome, and building. All these components are not sequentially distributed, named and numbered. Looking for a Japanese address is a real time- consuming process that wastes huge amount of precious time and causes numerous frustrations. A Universal Address added as part of an address can solve all the problems for Japan. It represents clear and accurate spatial information which can be directly pinpointed on all maps, navigated with GPS receivers and street signs enhanced with the NAC technology.

Only when Universal Addresses have been widely available and well known in an area, the advantages of the technology will become significant, and all NAC enhanced location based services will show their great competitiveness.

Looking for addresses is one of the most frequent activities for travelers. It is always a time-consuming and sometimes very frustrating process. This is especially true when a Western traveler finding an address in Japan where most streets have no names and buildings are numbered in a random fashion.

Many people expect high intelligent cellphones to help. According to IDC, in a January 2002 survey of 700 U.S. wireless households, location-based services scored highest in terms of consumer interest, with permission-based traffic information being second only to emergency-location service, and just ahead of opt-in location-based information on nearby businesses such as nearest movie theater and gas stations. "The consumer wireless market is very receptive to location-based services, particularly for those related to driving, traffic and directions," said Scott Ellison, Program Director, Wireless and Mobile Communications at IDC [2].

As reported by Strategis Group in year 2000 [3], revenues for value-added location-based services could reach nearly $4 billion per annum by 2002. In the survey of that report, respondents said they were willing to pay up to $28 extra for a location capable handset and an extra monthly fee of up to $26 for bundled location services. 65% of wireless users are interested in turn-by-turn navigation assistance and are willing to pay more than $1 each time they use the service. “These services can make your life much more convenient,” said Rod Nelson, AT&T Wireless senior vice president & CTO. Similarly, according to the April 2000 Strategis Group report “European Wireless Location Services”, Mobile Location and Information Services were forecast to be worth US$81.9 billion by 2005.

However, by the end of 2002, Cahners In-Stat predicted that carriers’ revenue from location-based services in the U.S. will be only $11 million in 2003, and climb to only $167 million by 2006 [4], far less than what Strategis Group predicted two years ago. Stan Bruederle, an analyst at Gartner Dataquest, said that in order for the services to enjoy widespread adoption, companies will have to offer services that have real value. "The things that people have come up with are not that compelling to consumers," said the analyst [5].

Having analyzed the situation, we think one of the major causes is the inefficiency of current geogra
phic coordinates used to represent locations and areas. Because geographic coordinates such as longitude/latitude or UTM require about 20 characters to represent locations to the accuracy of meters, these coordinates are extremely difficult for general consumers to read, input, communicate and remember and therefore are nearly useless to consumers.

Due to this problem of geographic coordinates, wireless location based services still have to use traditional addresses and place names to specify locations and areas. On a small telephone key pad, inputting long addresses on a cellphone is very time-consuming and frustrating. Because addresses do not have strict standards and have many variations, parsing various addresses on current location based services frequently results in errors. Moreover, inputting addresses with special or foreign characters on cellphones is another big problem.

All these make location based services lack of attraction. Manufacturers reluctant to add location capability to cellphones, and consumers are reluctant to pay extra money to purchase the new feature for their cellphones and to use wireless location based services. Therefore, the wireless location based services grow much slower than expectations. Wireless carriers become desperate as large investments in location based services do not generate expected revenue and profit.

The Natural Area Coding System brings hopes for the entire wireless location based service industry. The new technology provides highly efficient Universal Addresses and universal area codes (Natural Area Codes) for all locations and areas in the world. People can save more than 80% of input keys to specify any locations in the world with Universal Addresses instead of traditional addresses, and save even more input keys to specify any areas with any sizes in the world with Natural Area Codes instead of place names. This technology can significantly improve all location related products and services.

Enhanced with this revolutionary technology, cellphones and other wireless devices will become powerful navigation tools and information sources, and wireless location based services will become compelling to consumers. Original optimistic expectations for wireless location based services may revive.

In the following sections, five important applications of the Natural Area Coding System have been described.
Universal Address Lookup Service
As described in [6], Universal Addresses have many advantages than traditional addresses such as:

Universal Addresses are language and culture independent
Universal Addresses are available for every location on the earth
Universal Addresses are standard and valid in the whole world
Universal Addresses are short and use only alphanumeric characters that can be easily remembered, communicated, input into and displayed on all electronic devices, and included on business cards, telephone catalogs, tourist guides, etc
Universal Addresses are systematically distributed that people can easily figure out the relationship between any two Universal Addresses (distance, direction, etc)
Universal Addresses can be directly pinpointed on all maps no matter what scales or projection they have
Universal Addresses can be measured, displayed and navigated with any GPS receivers
Universal Addresses can also be used as global postal codes to sort all domestic and international mail automatically
Universal Addresses can be used as Universal Property Identifiers to efficiently identify and manage all kinds of properties in the world such as buildings, houses, parking spaces, fire hydrants, sewage exits, trees, wells, etc

Since eight alphanumeric character Universal Addresses are completely equivalent to any traditional addresses in the world for all location based services, it can save more than 80% of input keys to use Universal Addresses instead of traditional addresses on all location based services. This is especially important for wireless location based services because inputting characters on cellphones are very time-consuming and 80% saving of input keys is significant. Universal Addresses will also overcome the barriers of inputting addresses with characters not directly available on the key pad. This feature will make location based services easily provided across areas with different languages.

Therefore, providing such useful Universal Addresses itself will become an important revenue generating services. Universal Address lookup services can be provided mainly in three different media: telephone catalogs, Internet and wireless media.

1. Publish Universal Addresses as part of addresses on telephone catalogs Since telephone companies have already geocoded all addresses of all fixed telephones for emergency services. It is convenient for them to list Universal Addresses together with telephone numbers and addresses on yellow and white pages, using a simple program to convert longitude/latitude coordinates into Universal Addresses. Listing Universal Addresses on telephone catalogs will require little extra cost but add much new values.


Fig 1 – Telephone Catalogs Listing Universal Addresses

Unlike other publications, telephone catalogs are published every year and delivered to every household. It is the most efficient media to create wide availability of Universal Addresses to help people use Universal Address enhanced wireless location based services. The addition of Universal Addresses will also make telephone catalogs much more useful. Many people will use telephone catalogs to look up their Universal Addresses which will dramatically increase the page views of the telephone catalogs and generate great exposures for their advertisements. Nearly everybody need to know their Universal Address in order to include it as part of their address on business cards, tourist guides, advertisements, etc so that their visitors can more efficiently find their location.

If these telephone catalogs include street maps with NAC grids, their uses will be even more enhanced because users can directly pinpoint any location of interest with Universal Address on these maps and save much precious time.

2. Use web pages to provide Universal Address lookup service

Currently, there are already many yellow pages and white pages search services on the Internet. These services are mainly run by telephone companies. They have all the geographic coordinates (longitude/latitude) of all fixed telephone in their databases. It requires only a dozen lines of source code to turn these web services into Universal Address lookup services. The cost for adding this new functionality is negligible, while the new value is huge. The following is an interface for a Universal Address lookup service.

Fig 2 – Web Page of Universal Address Lookup Service

People can use either a traditional address or a fixed phone number to find the Universal Address. This service will not only help people get Universal Addresses for wireless location based services, but itself will generate significant revenue through online advertisements because Universal Address lookup service will be needed almost by all people.

Fig 3 – Use wireless Universal Address lookup service

Although telephone catalogs and web pages can provide Universal Address lookup services more widely, wireless Universal Address lookup service will have its unique advantages. When people are on roads, there are no telephone catalogs and wired Internet access available, and wireless Universal Address lookup service will become the only option for them. Therefore, there is certain demand for such a service.

For wireless location based service providers, all location based services can share the same geographic database, and providing wireless Universal Address lookup service will be only an interface created with an ignorable extra cost. Here is an example of such an interface for wireless Universal Address lookup ser


Fig 4 – Wireless Universal Address Lookup Service

On this interface, people can use either a traditional address or a fixed phone number to lookup their Universal Address. The revenue for this kind of service can be generated by charging each lookup transaction or the data transmitted.
GPS Enhanced Cellphone
GPS technology now is getting matured. Many GPS chips are available at prices below $10. It has become quite easy to integrate GPS capability into cellphones with little extra cost. Now, many cellphones have GPS functionality even directly embedded on the phone chip which makes the size even smaller, the battery life even longer and the price even lower. These new technologies plus the E911 requirement pushed by FCC of the United States will make GPS cellphones widely available on the market. Therefore, it’s the time to deploy the utility of GPS cellphones.

Now there is a funny thing that many GPS cellphones do not display geographic coordinates on cellphones. The geographic coordinates will be only transmitted to the wireless carriers for emergency calls. This is because simple longitude/latitude coordinates do not have much meaning to general consumers.

This situation will be changed by introducing NAC technology which will turn GPS cellphones into a powerful navigation tool without extra costs. Including a few lines conversion code, a GPS cellphone will be able to directly display its current Universal Address and therefore it can be directly used to find Universal Addresses anywhere in the world. This is because the distance and direction between any two Universal Addresses can be easily estimated by counting the number of grid cells in both directions.

For example, if the destination Universal Address is NAC: GH8JS QFGSL and the current location is NAC: 8H8JK QFGSD, you can see the differences between these two Universal Addresses: seven grid cells of Level 5 NAC grid in easting and six grid cells of Level 5 NAC grid in northing. A cell of Level 5 NAC grid has about 35 meters in easting and 25 meters in northing. Therefore, the destination is about 7 x 35 = 245 meters in east and 5 x 25 = 125 meters in north.

GPS cellphones can also be used to find out the Universal Address of any location in the world. Therefore they can also be used as a Universal Address lookup tool to obtain the Universal Addresses of any addresses.

In this application, wireless carriers can provide Assisted GPS (A-GPS) service that can significantly reduce the time and power consumption of cellphones in determining the current location and increase their accuracy. That will be another revenue source for wireless carriers.
Wireless Driving Directions Service
Driving directions service is one of the most needed wireless applications because people frequently miss turns when they are driving on unfamiliar roads. Any small mistakes in driving result in significant wasting of time and gasoline, and sometimes even loss of lives.

Although there are in-car navigation systems without wireless services available on the market, wireless driving directions service has many advantages such as:

Wireless services do not need very large device memory to save maps and location databases that makes equipment smaller, less expensive and less power consuming
Wireless services can save money for purchasing packages of maps and geographic databases
Wireless services can save time in downloading or uploading maps and geographic data in advance
Wireless services can cover much larger area
Wireless services can provide updated maps and real-time traffic information
Wireless services can be completely integrated on a small cellphone that can be easily carried everywhere and used for other navigation too.

All these give wireless carriers great opportunities to beat all other navigation systems.

However, wireless driving directions service faces a serious bottleneck that make the service less attractive. This bottleneck is the inconvenience in inputting location information on cellphones. It usually requires at least three input interfaces for driving directions service because of the small screen of a cellphone. Each address has about 40 characters. It is extremely time-consuming to use cellphone key pad to input these addresses. When addresses include special or foreign characters, it will be even more difficult.

Driving Directions Service Using Traditional Addresses

This situation is more popular in Europe where even a short distance may cross country borders with addresses in different languages. Using traditional addresses also blocks the uses of driving directions services for locations without addresses such as temporary camping sites, fishing spots, etc.

The Universal Addresses can solve all these problems:

Using Universal Addresses to specify start and end locations instead of traditional addresses can make the interface of a driving directions service on a single page that will make the interface much clearer because the user can see all the information immediately.

Each location specified in Universal Address will need only eight characters that can save more than 80% of input keys compared with using a traditional address.

Since Universal Addresses are in alphanumeric characters, they can be input on all cellphones to eliminate the difficulty in inputting addresses with foreign characters as shown frequently on traditional addresses.

With these three improvements, wireless driving directions services will become compelling to general consumers and more people will use them.

Driving Directions Services Using Universal Addresses

Wireless Map Service
Wireless map service is also an important service that many people need because in many situations, maps can be much clearer and more efficient to present spatial information than other descriptions. It is a service that no wireless carriers afford to ignore. The map service can share the same geographic database with the driving directions service. It is just a simple addition of an interface to the driving directions service. This has been demonstrated by many online driving directions service providers such as Yahoo, MSN, MapQuest, etc.

Now the problem is how to efficiently retrieve a map from a large geographic database. It does work using traditional addresses, place names, postal codes, telephone area codes, etc to retrieve maps for specific areas, but there are many problems:

All these methods are language and country dependent. It’s very difficult to create a universal interface to specify addresses or places for the entire world.

It’s difficult for users to input addresses and place names with foreign characters, while people always need maps when they are in foreign countries.

These methods do not cover all areas with different sizes, while areas of interests do not always overlap with those defined by these methods.

These methods always require inputting long character strings.

These problems make wireless map services area limited, inefficient and incomplete, and therefore become less attractive to users. All these problems can be solved by the introduction of the Natural Area Coding System which provides highly efficient universal and systematic area codes for all areas in the world with any sizes.

Using a Natural Area Code (NAC) to retrieve a map can make a map service fit into one single page interface on the small screen of a cellphone that can serve maps for the entire world.

A two alphanumeric character NAC can uniquely specify any area about 1000×700 kilometers anywhere in the world. For example, NAC: 8 Q is roughly the area of the Province of Ontario.

A four character NAC can specify any area about 33×24 kilometers anywhere in the world. For example, NAC: 8C Q8 roughly represents the City of Toronto.

A six character NAC can specify every square kilometer area on the earth

NAC can also make zooming and panning maps very efficient. For example, if a map of NAC 8CD Q8J is on the screen and you want to get a map at the top left cell of the NAC grid, you can simply type 8CC Q8K. If you want to display a map with multiple NAC cells, you can type a complex NAC such as 8CC-F Q8H-K. Using NAC can perform any kind of zooming and panning.

Map Service Using NAC

Since map services always transmit more data than text message. Providing map services can significantly increase revenue for wireless carriers because wireless data services usually measured by actual packets transmitted.
Wireless Location Based Search Service
Location based search service is also an important wireless service. When people travel in an unfamiliar area, especially in a suburb area where not many people available to give helps, wireless location based search service will be really helpful. For example, when you are running out of gas, you have to find the nearest gas station quickly. With a GPS cellphone and wireless location based search service, you can find it immediately because the GPS capability can directly send your current location information to the server. A one dollar service may save you much time and gas to find a gas station.

But the situation is not always like this. In many cases, people have to reserve a hotel room near a destination in advance that the GPS can’t help. They have to type in the address of the destination and specify a range on a cellphone to make such a search. This leads to the same problems as described in driving directions services where the address has many disadvantages such as language dependent, not available to all locations, long character strings, etc. Some foreign characters in addresses may lead to a complete failure in using such a service. Long character strings in an address require multiple pages to input and make the service time-consuming and frustrating.

Location Based Search Service

The Natural Area Coding System will make wireless location based search services significantly improved:

Using Natural Area Codes can compress the information of location and range into 4 or 6 characters to save more than 80% of input keys compared with using a traditional address plus a range specification that requires more than four lines of long character strings

The input interface of wireless location based search service using Natural Area Codes needs only one page, while that using a traditional address plus range specification needs at least two pages

The input interface of wireless location based search service using Natural Area Codes can be used to serve the entire world, while that using traditional addresses plus range specification can be used to serve areas of only one language

Natural Area Codes make wireless location based services able to serve any area with any size in the world, while traditional address based services can only be used for areas with names.

Enhanced with these four improvements, wireless location based service will become compelling to users and can easily beat all other competitors without the enhancement of the revolutionary technology.
About NAC Geographic Products Inc.

NAC Geographic Products Inc. is a Canadian software development company based in Toronto, Canada specialized in the computer and geo-technologies: GIS, GPS, Internet and wireless applications. In addition to the revolutionary technology of the Natural Area Coding System (http://www.nacgeo.com/nacsite/), the company is also experienced in the development of GIS and GPS software and web/wireless applications. The company developed one of the world first web GIS client software (WEBGIS and NACMAP) compliant with the Open GIS WMS Specifications. They are both written in Java. It has also published many software products such as NACGIS, NACDraw, NACDatum, NACGeocode, NACView, NACNav, NACWincap, NACGPS, etc. Its WEBGIS has become a popular GIS engine on many web sites providing highly intelligent maps such as
Real-Time Global Vehicle Tracking System on TravelGIS.com http://www.TravelGIS.com/WEBGIS/comtracking.asp
Online Web Map Service http://www.travelgis.com/webgis/

NAC Geographic Products Inc. has been on the development of GIS and GPS applications since 1995 and is one of the world leading companies in geographic related technologies.

More information about the company is available at http://www.nacgeo.com.

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2. Soaring Wireline Displacement and Highest Interest in Location-Based Services: U.S. Wireless Household Survey Results, 2002. International Data Corporation.

3. Great Location Expectations (http://www.wirelessreview.com/ar/wireless_great_location_expectations/)

4. Analysts Projections for Location Technologies and Associated Markets (http://www.comm– nav.com/projections.htm)

5. LATEST E911 NEWS SUMMARY ANALYSIS (http://www.davidhwilliams.com/pages/5/index.htm)

6. Geographic Coordinates and Universal Address (http://www.nacgeo.com/GEOTec/)

(c)2003 NAC Geographic Products Inc., January 2003, 2004

NAC Geographic Products Inc.
1608-45 Huntingdale Blvd.
Toronto, ON, M1W 2N8
Tel: 416 496 6110
Email: xshen@nacgeo.com
Web: www.nacgeo.com

GISuser.com thanks NAC Geographic Products for providing this informative contribution