A new WiFi-based location system, which its developers claim provides better results than global positioning system military satellites, has been launched across the largest 25 metropolitan areas of the US.

The technology, invented by Skyhook Wireless, a Boston, Massachusetts-based start-up, could resolve difficult problems such as tracing stolen laptops and providing 911 emergency location information on voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phone calls.

It takes advantage of the rapid proliferation of commercial WiFi hotspots and can be applied to the more than 100m WiFi-enabled devices. Skyhook has compiled a database of more than 1.5m private and public WiFi access points with their location across the major metropolitan areas.

By the process of triangulation, its software can pinpoint the location of a WiFi-enabled device by its proximity to different WiFi access points the device picks up through its WiFi radio chip. Skyhook says it is accurate within 20-40 metres.

Currently, users of mobile phones, notebook PCs and other handheld devices can determine their location with add-on units featuring GPS (Global Positioning System) satellite technology or by incorporating a GPS chip inside. Mobile phone base stations can also be used with software to triangulate positions.

Skyhook says its solution means there is no need for new GPS hardware to add location capabilities to WiFi devices. But it also sees its software being combined with GPS, which is superior in areas outside cities where WiFi hotspots are few and far between.

Skyhook on Monday announced a partnership with CyberAngel Security Solutions, a laptop recovery company, to market WiFi Tracker, a system that would allow companies and individuals to identify the exact location of stolen equipment. Skyhook's technology could also help carriers of internet phone calls. The Federal Communications Commission has ordered they provide full 911 emergency calling services, including the ability to determine location, by as early as October.

Advertisers could also take advantage, serving up location-based ads for local businesses as users move through the WiFi coverage areas.

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