Geolocation is the process of an internet application locating its user.

This was originally achieved by locating the user’s IP address but, with the increase in mobile internet devices, fixed IP addresses are not always accurate. New methods are appearing among service providers as technology becomes more flexible within the networks.

As well as a means of advertising for businesses, geolocation is also being integrated into security systems and cloud computing.

What methods can companies use to locate their users?

IP addresses can identify a device but this is not always linked to a physical address. Application delivery controllers sitting in the network need to use other methods to correctly locate the user.

Application delivery controllers have made huge advancements in recent years giving them greater flexibility within the network.

A major advancement in this technology has been the change in what point the application delivery controller interjects into the connection process. They previously entered the process earlier on which was not only less accurate but limited what they could do to accommodate the user. Now, they interject themselves later, allowing them to register what the user is trying to do and therefore help deliver the content in the most effective way.

Owen Cole, technical director for UK, Ireland and sub-Saharan Africa for F5 Networks, explains that the application delivery controller would enter the connection process to find the DNS look up which identifies the computer you want to connect to. This could give an inaccurate impression of where a user is, because the device will still look like it is connected to its local DNS regardless of where it is.

How do application delivery controllers find people’s locations?

Application delivery controllers can locate the user using a few metrics. One of the most frequently used methods is measuring the number of ‘hops’ between networks. This looks at the waypoints in the request between user and website and looks at how many times it has to ‘hop’ between networks in order to locate the user.

Another method is measuring the roundtrip time of the user’s request from when the initial request is sent to when the user receives the content. This method is dependent on what the user wants to do. It may work when the user is contacting a website but may not be as effective if they are trying to watch a video because of the stream of data.

Problems occur when bigger international companies reroute their internet traffic from many international offices through a few IP addresses, giving the appearance that they are all based in the same place. There are now programmes to overcome this which have been developed to trace someone down to their building.

Why is this information useful to businesses?

By knowing where their users are, a business can adapt their website to make it more local to them. Geolocation providers can give details to aid a business from the country down to area code; latitude and longitude; time zone; connection type (ie broadband) and its speed; and domain name and type.

This kind of information allows websites to tailor their pages to the users looking at them. For example, when looking at a foreign website your search engine can give you the option to translate the page; the reason it knows this is through geolocation.

Companies that have a large presence on the internet can use geolocation to distribute resources more effectively. Cloud balancing allows companies to route application requests across multiple clouds. Data found using geolocation advances this process by giving global server information about its user so it can find the best data centre or cloud to direct the user’s request.

How does this differ when using a smartphone or mobile device?

A mobile is located using GPS, Wifi or locating the cell-id (similar to an IP address). The mobile element of geolocation has opened up a new world of marketing and advertising for businesses and is increasingly used in order to maximise business capability by integrating with social media.

French company 8Motions has just launched a new social networking site in the UK called Whoozaround which is a specifically geolocation-geared social networking site. The site has several functions to help explore a new town or city and meet new people and works as an app on a smartphone to help find places of interest.

Aurélien Regnault, CEO and co-founder of 8Motions said: “On the web all information needs to be prepared before going out but with geolocation on my mobile I can re-evaluate my needs depending on my location at any time.”

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