Open Geospatial Consortium Standards: in more places than you realize

In this guest blog, Carl Reed and Steven Ramage of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) offer their thoughts on the important role of open standards for location based services, particularly for protecting location privacy and for enhancing interoperability for emergency and disaster management. The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) is an international consortium of 419 companies, government agencies and universities participating in a consensus process to develop publicly available interface standards. OGC® Standards support interoperable solutions that “geo-enable” the Web, wireless and location-based services and mainstream IT. The standards empower technology developers to make complex spatial information and services accessible and useful with all kinds of applications.


Open Geospatial Consortium Standards: in more places than you realize

By  Carl Reed and Steven Ramage, OGC, Published on March 14, 2011

Back in the 1990s a number of governments, for example the USA, ruled that telephone companies had to provide the location of any mobile cellular device to support emergency response. This requirement became a key motivation behind the Internet Engineering Task Force‘s (IETF) community forming a new working group called GeoPriv.

This group focused on how to best express location payloads as part of key Internet standards as well as defining techniques for expressing privacy rules related to the use of location. One Internet TFC (Traffic Flow Confidentiality) that has received considerable attention is the Presence Information Description Format Location Object extension (PIDF-LO). This is especially true in terms of the US Next Generation 911 requirements.

What’s that I hear you say? The Location Object (LO) specifies how to encode the device’s location information. The LO can be of type civic (address) or geodetic (lat/long coordinates) or both. The geodetic encoding for an LO used an application schema of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Geography Markup Language (GML). This application schema supports a variety of geometry types, such as point, circle, and ellipse as required by the cellular and services industry (see http://www.rfc-archive.org/getrfc.php?rfc=4119).

So what? Well, there are a couple of notable points. Firstly, privacy issues related to the use of a user’s location is a growing concern, but probably most people do not realize that their location services providers could offer a wide spectrum of privacy options. These privacy options and rules are enabled by implementation of location-related standards, such as those being developed by the IETF and the OGC. Secondly, this is all about infrastructure, i.e., the Internet and the backbone of modern-day communications. This is where OGC standards work to geospatially enable Information and Communications Technology.

The GeoPRIV work also extends to automatic device location. The group first released a location encoding extension for the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) (see http://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-ietf-geopriv-dhcp-lo-option-00). More recently they released a draft DHCP document that provides a binary location encoding to GML encoding. When an IP or Internet Protocol address is assigned to a device it is done during a DHCP handshake across the Internet. Again this draft document provides for a GML encoding (also using a lightweight GML profile) of binary location information provided (optionally) during the DHCP handshake. This open method of converting any device’s binary physical location bits to GML means that, when a user chooses to share their location, the sharing could extend to users and services outside a device or operator’s network, if those providers make it so.

Although not really publicized, a number of network infrastructure providers have implemented the OGC Open Location Services Interface Standard (OpenLS), which specifies interfaces that enable companies in the Location Based Services (LBS) value chain to “hook up” and provide their applications, such as emergency response E-911, personal navigation, traffic information service, proximity service, location  recall, mobile field service, travel directions, restaurant finder,  corporate asset locator, and so on.

By specifying GML, the GeoPRIV community sought to provide a simple location payload that would enhance interoperability among emergency response systems and meet the requirements of the Next Generation 911 activity. They also wanted to provide interoperability with municipal geographic information systems, facilities management systems, traffic management systems, database records with location fields and all other infrastructure. Any of these might be critical in emergency and disaster management scenarios, and GML makes the connection.

The use of GML in certain Internet standards, emergency service standards, and so forth increases the ability to share and capitalize on the value of location information as it flows through a workflow or processing chain. For example, a location captured and encoded in DHCP can be easily transformed into a GeoRSS GML encoding and integrated into an ATOM feed for use in an alerting application. GeoRSS allows feeds to be location enabled, there’s also a natural link to the draft OGC standard called Open GeoSMS. It defines an open short message service (SMS) format.

So there are a number of interesting possibilities that arise from these activities. Primarily, there is the recognition and use of geospatial or location standards from the OGC in infrastructure areas. There is also the use of location in the privacy arena and the fact that OGC standards are really being used across communities of interest.

There are many communities ranging from aviation to defense and intelligence to meteorology, hydrology and public safety where coordination and communication efforts use GML profiles and application schemas (some lightweight, some heavyweight). This can be best observed via the OGC Domain Working Groups.

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