Microsoft tracks WiFi for new mapping system

August 2nd, 2005

Microsoft tracks WiFi for new mapping system
Move is part of a plan to create alternative to GPS satellite system

In a new initiative, Microsoft has dispatched cars to trawl many city and suburban streets across the U.S. to locate the signals sent out by millions of short-range home and office wireless (or WiFi) networks. The unusual move, now being repeated in the U.K. and some other countries, is part of a plan to create a ground-based location system as an alternative to the GPS satellite system.

Microsoft said it had collected only the unique identifier, known as a MAC address which each WiFi network broadcasts. This could not be traced to an address or an individual user. Microsoft said that, by recording the position of every MAC address on a giant map, it had created a positioning system that would make it possible for anyone with a WiFi-enabled laptop computer to identify their location to within 30.5 meters.