LocationAPI Pinpoints GeoLocation of IoT Devices, Smartphones

Unwired Labs’ LocationAPI allows developers to instantly locate any smartphone or Internet of Things (IoT) device.

Drawing on a database of over 511.4 million WiFi and 58.9 million cell tower objects, LocationAPI can return a specific device’s location on all leading WiFi and cell tower technologies, including GSM, CDMA, UMTS, and LTE. The service uses the cell ID data from a mobile device, applies an algorithm based on data from the physical location of cell towers, and can estimate within 900 meters in urban centers and 3 km in rural zones.

For GSM- and UMTS-based networks, the API needs the location area code of the operating network and the cell ID. For CDMA networks, the Network ID and Base ID or Station ID are needed. LTE networks must provide the operator’s tracking area code and the cell ID. The more information that can be provided — such as mobile country codes and signal strength — the more it helps the API further pinpoint accuracy.

The API is similar to the geolocation identification features in the Android and iOS SDKs but, according to Unwired Labs CEO Gopi Aravind, the LocationAPI option is “quicker, more accurate” and can also be used in machine-to-machine and IoT markets such as identifying retail point-of-sale devices, wearables, and GPS trackers.

While smartphone owners can switch off or manage what apps are given access to location data, IP location may still work, meaning services like LocationAPI let app developers get details such as country and city and can contextualize information for their app users that way.

API Documentation provided is straightforward, with example code and a Sandbox to test calls using a free, self-serve API trial token. Response body details and category error messages are listed. Example scripts for using the API with CURL, PHP, Python, Ruby, and six other programming languages are provided. The site includes a status page monitoring uptime of the API, and a free developer plan is offered with 50 calls per day. (Only calls that return an address are charged.)

The API is already being used by BBOXX, which creates and distributes solar systems to people in developing countries. One of BBOXX’s products is the SMART Solar, which enables remote monitoring and battery management of their energy service. SMART Solar includes a dashboard analytics feature that can identify the location of each system up to 1km, which means that the location of energy services can be provided to direct service agents more easily. According to BBOXX Engineering Manager Ashley Grealish, LocationAPI has helped the renewable energy startup reduce upfront product costs and has replaced more costly GPS monitoring by simply using LocationAPI.

The LocationAPI website claims 8,500 developers are using the service, but website statistics data from SimilarWeb suggests that, at best, the service is currently seeing up to 3,000 monthly visitors.

Interestingly, the service is offering a data provider trading plan as a pricing option. Where potential API customers control more than 1,000 active GPS devices or where developers wanting to use LocationAPI already have a popular app in the market, LocationAPI is looking to exchange API access for geolocation data.

Developers can sign up for a free plan on Unwired Labs’ LocationAPI developer portal.

Be sure to read the next Location article: OGC Requests Community Input on OGC SensorThings API Standard