FrontlineSMS let users send, receive and manage SMS over a mobile network.

Here's the situation...

CoAid would like to develop a network of volunteers within India that will act as an early warning system to tell a command center where disaster response supplies need to be sent.

I like the look of frontlineSMS but I haven't seen anything yet where it can capture the geo-location code of the volunteer. I'm guessing that a form field would record the GPS location of an enabled phone and send it back as part of the SMS message.

Is this already possible or in the works? The success of this venture will depend greatly on this feature.


Steve Neill
President, CoAid

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Hi, could be a very usefull feature. Not only for alerting, but also for security issues for fieldworkers.
My concern is that unless the aid worker has access to GPS coordinates, it can be hard to track exact locations of displaced populations. How does ushahidi plot locations on maps without knowing them from source?
This could be extremely useful for the purpose you mention and also for any 'participatory monitoring' activity. Our interest is that we do this through face to face surveys and want to extend our reach through SMS - locating respondents is important as part of this.

My understanding is that phones can technically be located even without GPS through systems that 'triangulate' from the transmitter they are logged on to. My phone can locate me in Google Maps with GPS turned off in this way. However there are technical and legal issues in being able to access this info.

Anyone else interested in pursuing this? I think it may need some development.
Further to my other reply i scanned Ushahidi and their report of recent work in Haiti suggests that the way they geolocate is by asking people where they are:-
Hi all

Unfortunately SMS doesn't carry the location by default, and I'm not aware of any phones which will allow you to 'insert' the GPS (or tower) locations into the SMS. This is partly technical, and partly to do with privacy issues. You could technically write an app which took the GPS or tower co-ordinates - assuming the phone made that available to other apps - and insert it into an SMS. If that *did* work then you'd need to download that app onto every phone you wanted to locate, which may well be a challenge too far.

So, sadly there's no easy answer right now.

Hi Thanks Ken

Yes, I read an article (I think it was just in Wikipedia) which highlighted the possibility of loading an app to the phone - which certainly wouldn't work for us. However it also suggested that it is technically possible to geolocate a phone from its number - so while the SMS doesn't have any location info embedded, once you have the number you could then locate the phone and put the two items of info together.

As this would be very strategic to us in extending the global surveying we do already ( we're seeking advice and possible funding to pursue it - so if anyone else is interested do let me know!
Hi Terry

Hmmmm... Have no idea how knowing a location by a number works. In the US you can tell where a phone number was taken out (650 would be West Coast, etc) but it wouldn't tell you that right now that phone was in the UK, for example. Number porting also totally throws this, so numbers get shifted around. I'd be interested to see what you discover - as you say it would be a major breakthrough if someone cracked it!

Thanks Ken - be interested to see if anyone else is . . . interested!

Here's an example of a UK system which is able to locate a phone -

I think this and other services work by being able to access the current base station info for the phone. Obviously they require an opt in, and this service just covers the UK - but they don't require any app on the phone itself.
Hi Steve, I was looking into this some time ago. There are several non-free solutions, but depend on an internal GPS (we are using bluetooth GPS so I didn't follow up). I spoke to Nokia support and they told me that some phones (again with internal GPS) will do that with the Nokia OVI software.
To say the truth I got the impression that the support guy didn't really know what he was talking about.

In FrontlineSMS these can be received using the keyword functionality. This means that they will not be tied into a form but will be received as a separate dataset.
I wonder if the FLSMS team can suggest a better system.

some links: (free but specific for Siemens phone & software)
This is certainly possible if you have an agreement with the service provider, since they have this information, but it is not relayed in the SMS.

Once I opened Google Maps mobile and it showed my location 15 km away but precisly on top of a cellphone antenna tower visible in the imagery. And I was connected with GPRS.
Hi Terry,

The problem, as Ken said, is that not all phones provide access to the GPS system. If they do, then grabbing the GPS coordinates and pushing them to a SMS message would be simple. Yes, you would have to install the app on all of your phones like Ken said, but since you have control of the phones that shouldn't be a huge problem.

You mentioned cell tower triangulation. Let me caution against using that for routing supplies, etc. The accuracy of this method of geolocation can be very accurate or can be off by miles depending on the number of cell towers around and the quality of the signal. If you're in the middle of Mumbai, you should be fine but what happens if you're in the middle of nowhere that has super spotty and weak cell service? For supply and resource routing, I'd definitely stick with GPS.

Just my $0.02,
I think this would be an invaluabe feature and while it would be technically challenging to put georef info into a plain sms, I can't see why it wouldn't be possible to do as a feature of the java forms client. The location API for J2ME (JSR 179) would seem perfect for providing an additional field type to collect location data automatically either through internal GPS or bluetooth GPS device. I understand that the forms client is not open source (and that is fair enough) so I'd be very interested to know if there is any scenarios where an enhacement like this or indeed any other significant one identified in the future would be able to find its way into the forms client feature list for everyone to have access to.

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