Most of us probably remember playing hide-and-seek as a
kid. There seemed to be so many places where we could seek
cover and never be found. Today, finding a place where you
can't be seen is becoming increasingly difficult. Surveillance
cameras seem to watch our every move. They're in stores, our
offices, over our roads, even in our homes. Soon, cameras will
be augmented by new tracking technologies that will detect our
wireless devices, too.
Photo courtesy Digital Angel
Corporation By the end of
2001, location-tracking technologies will be able to
locate people nearly
By using global positioning
system (GPS) satellites and local, land-based networks,
these new systems will use wireless radio
signals to find you wherever you are. If your cell
phone is equipped with a GPS receiver, as will be required
by the U.S.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) beginning in
October 2001, it will be nearly impossible to conceal your
location. (Developers have assured consumers that they will be
able to opt out of these networks and remain anonymous if they
The use of location-tracking technologies means that people
will be easier to find during emergencies. But it also means
that marketers will be able to send us unsolicited advertising
on our cell phones as we pass by or through retail stores. In
this edition of How
Stuff WILL Work, we will look at three types of
location-tracking technology and see how they will be able to
seek you out no matter where you're hiding.
Watching Over You By November 2001, Digital
Angel will allow you to not only locate someone, but also
check on that person's health. Such a system will especially
assist those trying keeping track of patients or elderly
parents. Digital Angel combines wireless radio signals, GPS
satellites and a ground-based data center to continuously
track someone's location. Subscribers to the service will be
able to log on from any Internet-connected device to check on
a loved one.
Digital Angel uses GPS satellites and an AT&T
wireless network to track people wearing a BioSensor watch and
GPS-equipped pager device.
Here are the various components that make up the Digital
Biosensor - Embedded in a wristwatch, this
biosensor touches the skin and reads a person's vital signs,
including temperature and pulse. A special algorithm allows
the system to determine if the person has suddenly fallen
down, a feature useful for some at-risk patients.
Photo courtesy Digital Angel A person would have to wear this special
watch and pager in order to be tracked by the Digital
Pager device - Data from the biosensor is sent
wirelessly to a pager device that has a GPS receiver and a
cellular packet module or transceiver, which enables it to
upload this information to a satellite. A microprocessor
in the pager organizes the data flow from the GPS receiver
and transceiver. Both the biosensor watch and the pager
device will come with a rechargeable battery.
GPS satellites - Digital Angel uses these
satellites and a remote monitoring station to continually
ping (bounce radio signals to) the person's pager device.
Radio signals from the satellite get a fix on a position,
and the satellite then transmits a longitude and latitude to
a GPS receiver.
AT&T wireless network - Once a person has
been located, their information can be sent through cellular
data packets to a wireless network. The data is sent over a
frequency range of 800 to 900 MHz.
Delivery system - While AT&T provides the
transmission of signals, Digital Angel provides the hosted
data center. There are two of these centers in the United
States, one in New York and one in Maryland. Proprietary
software allows subscriber devices to interface with the
data center. Users can log on and get information, along
with a map of a person's location.
Digital Angel relies directly on satellite transmission --
it doesn't use cell towers. The company is working on
integrating relay devices into aircraft and ships. This would
make transmissions easier and more reliable.
As of May 2001, consumers can view and pre-order the
biosensor watch and pager device. There are two watches, one
for kids and one for adults. The components will be available
in October 2001 for $299, and service will cost between $19.95
and $49.95 per month depending on the service plan you choose.
A New 911 In America, we learn from an early
age to call 911 when there's an emergency. When we dial 9-1-1,
the call is automatically forwarded to a public-safety
answering point (PSAP), also called a 911 call center.
Typically, the caller will tell the 911 operator about the
emergency and his or her location. In 2001, most areas are
also serviced by Enhanced 911 (E-911), which allows the
operator to trace the phone call and access the address that
the call is coming from.
Have you ever wondered
why 911 was chosen as the universal emergency
code in the United States? Prior to the 1960s, there
was no universal number to call for emergency help. In
1967, the Federal Communications Commission met with
AT&T to establish such a number, according to the
National Emergency Number Association (NENA). But why
did they choose 911? Why not 422 or 111?
There are several reasons why 911 was chosen. It's a
short, easy to remember number, but more importantly,
911 was a unique number -- it had never been designated
for an office code, area code or service code.
On February 16, 1968, Alabama Senator Rankin
Fite made the first 911 call in the United States in
Haleyville, Alabama. The Alabama Telephone
Company carried the call. A week later, Nome,
Alaska, implemented a 911 system. In 1973, the White
House's Office of Telecommunication issued a national
statement supporting the use of 911 and pushed for the
establishment of a Federal Information Center to assist
government agencies in implementing the system.
The problem with the 911 system
is that it has been slow to recognize the growing number of
phone calls coming from cell phones. There are more than
115-million wireless subscribers in the United States,
according to the Cellular
Telephone Industry Association (CTIA), with an additional
46,000 Americans subscribing to wireless service every day.
So how does this affect 911 calls? The National
Emergency Number Association (NENA) estimates that
150-million calls were made to 911 in 2000, and 45-million of
those calls were made on cell phones. That's up from the
4.3-million wireless phone calls made to 911 in 1990, and NENA
believes the number will increase to 100-million by 2005.
The FCC has ruled that cell-phone providers must equip
their phones with GPS receivers by October 2001. This will
give authorities the ability to locate a cell-phone user who
has called the 911 service. Enhanced wireless
911 is being implemented in three stages:
Phase 0 - This is the basic 911 process. Wireless
calls are sent to a PSAP. Service providers must direct a
call to PSAP even if the caller is not a subscriber to their
Phase I - The FCC's rule requires that a phone
number display with each 911 call, allowing the PSAP
operator to call back if there is a disconnection. The FCC
deadline for Phase I was April 2000.
Phase II - The final phase requires carriers to
place GPS receivers in phones in order to deliver more
specific latitude and longitude location information, called
Automatic Location Identification (ALI). Phase II is
designed to bring wireless calls up to the level of E-911
calls, which means the caller's phone number and location is
identified. Carriers must begin selling and activating
ALI-capable phones by October 1, 2001. The remaining
obstacle is the upgrading of PSAP equipment to handle this
new tracking technology. When the upgrade is complete,
cell-phone callers will be pinpointed to within 300 feet (91
m) of their location.
Without Phase II, a caller's location can only be narrowed
down to the cell from which the call originated. When Phase II
is implemented, a cell-phone user's phone number, or
Automatic Number Identification (ANI), and the address
and location of the receiving-antenna site will be sent to the
E911 Tandem, the switch that routes 911 calls to the
appropriate PSAP based on the ANI-defined geographic location.
Once the caller's voice and ANI are transferred to PSAP, the
PSAP operator will be able to view a graphic display that
shows the longitude and latitude of the person as accessed
through GPS satellites. The operator's computer will link to
the ALI database, which stores address data and other
Attention Shoppers In the previous two
sections, we discussed networks that will cover very wide
areas. But there are also some tracking systems in development
that will be used on a much smaller scale. For example, a
shopping mall might want to have a local network that tracks
shoppers, but it doesn't need a system that covers an entire
city. To fill this niche, PanGo
Networks is developing what it calls a Proximity
PanGo's Proximity Platform sets up zones of radio
signals that send coupons and other announcements to a
consumer's wireless device.
The Proximity Platform basically sets up wireless zones
within defined areas. These zones are called hot spots.
When a wireless user enters a hot spot, his or her device is
detected. Content such as advertisements and coupons is
generated and displayed on the device. Imagine that the entire
mall is a computer screen with clickable buttons. As such, the
wireless-device user would be the mouse, and the hot zones
would be the buttons. When you enter a hot zone, you click on
a button, which delivers content to your PDA or cell
phone. Using the shopping mall as the example, let's look at
the various components of the Proximity Platform:
Site Manager - The site manager is the heart of
the system. This software will allow operators of
short-range radio networks to set up zones in high-traffic
areas to detect wireless devices.
Content Server - Within each store of the mall,
there will be a local content server that is connected to
the Proximity Platform network. These servers will have a
range that is limited to targeted areas of each store.
Bluetooth or 802.11 - These short-range
radio signals, which allow electronic devices to communicate
with each other, will be used by the Proximity Platform to
create the "hot spots."
The PanGo system is based on spaces. It will be able to
track you as you walk through a mall and even detect how long
you spend in certain spaces. These spaces are defined by the
site manager and the content server. As a person with wireless
device enters a space, the content server communicates with
the site manager. The site manager then delivers content to
the wireless device. PanGo spokesperson Charlie Day said that
the system will give users the ability to opt out and remain
Day said that the PanGo system will not be ready for at
least another year, but you will see wireless 911 and Digital
Angel implemented at the end of 2001. In coming years, there
are sure to be more location-tracking systems developed.
Imagine a world in which anyone can log into a system to find
out exactly where you are at any given moment. Developers
admit that privacy issues will be an obstacle to widespread
acceptance of their services.