Will WiFi JumpStart Location Based Services?

Over past few weeks, many new location based services (LBS) that leverage the WiFi networks have come to the forefront, and many of them have exciting enough offerings to give mobile phone networks-based LBS a run for their money – not that it would take much!

With WiFi becoming common place, and the upcoming entrance of city-wide wireless, companies like (Loki from) Skyhook Wireless, Plazes, and Meetroduction and its Meetro service, are starting to make major deals and find a significant user base. Meetro, for instance is building an interesting social aspect based on its technology, and it could actually catch on, once it expands beyond the classic early adopter user base. A new function that imports Myspace info could help on that front.

Skyhook Wireless’ location technology uses a database of WiFi access points to deliver user location. The company has Loki, its browser plug-in that is starting to bring in users, but it could go farther in licensing its technology to big players. The company says its talking to IM-providers, search companies like Google, and even the video game companies Sony and Nintendo for their portable devices. Sony and Nintendo were rumored to have checked out embedding GPS for the PSP and DS, but the feature was just too darn expensive–on that end Skyhook would be much cheaper.

In comparison, the phone based LBS have been slow to get off the ground. Following moves by Sprint and Disney Mobile, Verizon’s child-tracker service launched a few weeks ago, over just one phone, accompanied by major restrictions. Talk about a disappointing debut. What is becoming obvious is that LBS is less about technology, and more about applications – interesting applications!

Take Google’s Dodgeball service. Ever since the search giant acquired the company, it hasn’t done anything with it. It is not the coolest thing on the planet, it still needs a lot of effort, but it is still popular with dodgeballers. From that stand point MVNOs like Helio could help push the cellular market for social location based services. But up until that happens, we are going to watch the location over WiFi space – it is more fun!

Also: Somebody’s Watching Me!