If you’ve ever wanted to know where you are, where something is, or what’s going on in a specific place, you’ve used geolocation data. The abundance of mobile devices and Internet technologies in modern society has made geolocation data so easily accessible, allowing businesses, governments, non-profit organizations, and others to use pseudonymous mass quantities of it for various applications.
So what is geolocation data, what is it being used for, and where can you get it in sufficient quantities for such large-scale applications? The answers are in this guide, contained in the following sections:
- What is geolocation data?
- 7 ways to get geolocation data
- Types of geolocation data you can buy
- Where to get geolocation data
- 10 geolocation data use case examples
We’ll first provide a geolocation data definition that explains concretely what it is, as it is a somewhat specific concept.
What is geolocation data?
Geolocation data refers to any kind of data that allows for determining, with reasonable precision, the location of any person or object on planet Earth. Typically, this data is created from a signal from an electronic device, such as a mobile phone, connected car, or smart watch.
Geolocation data generally fulfills one or more of three functions. The most common example is providing the location of an object on Earth through longitude and latitude coordinates. It can also add location information to a digital artifact such as a photo or social media post. And finally, it can give other contextual information about a known location, like what is there and when it’s open to the public.
We’ll explain more about what these uses mean when we cover sub-types and specific use cases for geolocation data.
7 ways geolocation data is collected
We mentioned that geolocation data is most frequently associated with signals from electronic devices, but technically anything that provides reasonably accurate and precise information about where something is on Earth could be considered a source of geolocation data.
In light of that, here are 7 examples of sources that geolocation data can be collected from.
- GPS – GPS is a common technology used in many modern vehicles and mobile devices. It works by triangulating a location signal between the device emitting it, a nearby ground-based detection station, and a satellite out in space. This is able to give accurate latitude and longitude coordinates for a person, device, or vehicle’s location.
- Cellular networks – Similar to GPS, cellular networks are able to geolocate people and objects when a person places a phone call or uses cellular data on a mobile device. Telecom carriers can triangulate the call or data signal between nearby cellular towers.
- Internet – It’s also possible to get geolocation data when a person accesses the Internet. The IP address that is assigned to a person when they open a web browser and connect to the Internet contains information that corresponds to their physical location. In addition, if a person connects to a WiFi network, the network’s SSID (service set identifier) may reveal the location that the person is in the vicinity of.
- Transaction data – Information on electronic transactions can contain useful geolocation data if they take place at the point of sale. This is typically easier to acquire from credit or debit card companies, or other third-party payment processors, than from merchants themselves.
- Geotagging – Geolocation data can sometimes be added to digital artifacts that wouldn’t otherwise have it. For instance, some social networks allow for manually adding location details to a photo or other status update. Others will add this information to an update automatically when someone “checks in” at a particular place. In addition, some cameras and camera applications can detect the user’s location and add it as metadata to a photo when it is taken.
- Maps and GIS apps – Maps and mapping applications can also be sources of geolocation data. Many traditional maps at least put names to points of interest and streets. But modern GIS applications tend to contain more specific geolocation API data such as GPS coordinates, imagery, and specific addresses as well. They also often contain more detailed point-of-interest information: land use classification, hours of operation, contact information, price range, brand affiliation(s), and more.
- Purchase from provider – Geolocation data can be difficult to collect in the mass quantities necessary for many of the applications it’s used for. It can also be challenging to organize into formats that yield meaningful insights. That’s why most organizations prefer to buy the data from a company like Veraset that specializes in collecting and processing it.
Contact Veraset today to see if our data solutions are right for you.
Types of geolocation data you can buy
Based on how geolocation data is collected and what it’s generally used for, it can be broken down into these six subcategories:
1.Point of interest
Point of interest (POI) data is contextual information about any place on Earth someone might want to visit, apart from a private residence. That includes natural landmarks and man-made monuments, but usually refers to commercial structures such as stores, restaurants, airports, office buildings, hotels, stadiums, etc.
For these commercial buildings, POI data can contain attributes such as address, business classification, contact information, hours of operation, relative price range, and ratings & reviews.
Property data refers to information about a parcel of land and any buildings on it. The most relevant sub-type of property data to geolocation is building footprint data. This is a polygon-based outline of the physical space a building occupies. Building footprints may also contain spatial hierarchy metadata on specific rooms within a building, or smaller buildings within a larger one (such as a mall, hotel, apartment, or business complex).
Mobility data refers to information that locates people based on signals from their mobile devices. This can be via GPS, cellular networks, radio frequencies, or IP addresses when certain functions are used. Usually, to comply with privacy regulations, this data is pseudonymous and aggregated to give a general measure of foot traffic around points of interest at certain times.
Address data is the most fundamental type of geolocalized data. It is information on the physical location of something on the face of planet Earth, usually represented by latitude and longitude coordinates. It can also be information on a person or building’s location relative to mail or street systems (e.g. 1234 Cherry Lane, Toronto, Canada, M3F 2H1).
Streets data covers transportation networks, usually roads for land-based vehicles such as cars and trucks (but not always). It can be used as part of address data to give a person, place, or object’s relative location on Earth. It can also be used by itself to give the relative location of a person or vehicle if it is not in the vicinity of a known location.
Imagery data consists of photos of what the physical world looks like, and is considered geolocation data when used to identify where a place or object is based on its surroundings. Another way it can do this is if location information (i.e. a “geotag”) is added as metadata to a photo. With some systems, this is done automatically, while on others it must be done manually.
10 geolocation data use case examples
Geolocation data analysis can be used in a number of different fields, and for a variety of different purposes. Here are some examples of applications fueled by geolocation data:
- Real estate – Assessing a property for potential development based on its attributes, including the buildings on it and POIs/activity in the surrounding area.
- Retail – Selecting store locations and advertising strategies based on their accessibility to targeted demographics.
- Marketing – Designing, deploying, and measuring the impact of marketing campaigns through foot traffic analysis and visit attribution.
- Urban planning – Planning land use and infrastructure networks so transportation, utilities, and critical services are accessible from where people live.
- Financial investment – Studying consumer movement patterns, business and brand relationships, transaction data, and store openings/closings to predict how financial assets will perform.
- Insurance – Evaluating risk to a person, property, or business based on terrain; building shapes, capacities, and tenant activities; and footfall and vehicle traffic volumes.
- Telecommunications – Using data on property details, building footprints, and human mobility patterns to build efficient networks and price services competitively.
- Transportation – Combining street and traffic data with property information and location addresses to optimize the efficiency of both commercial logistics and public mobility.
- Mapping – Building a GIS for navigation and other purposes, which often involves geocoding or reverse geocoding (i.e. converting street addresses to latitude and longitude coordinates or the other way around).
- Public service – Performing visit attribution, foot traffic analysis, or accessibility evaluations to provide community support, conservation efforts, or crisis response.
For a more thorough overview of how geolocation data and other types of geospatial data are used in various industries and organizations, check out our e-book on location data use cases.
Where to get geolocation data
As we mentioned, standard methods of collecting mass quantities of geolocation data are usually best left to companies that specialize in them. It can save your organization a lot of time and expense versus doing things yourself. With that being said, here are some reliable providers of the types and amount of geolocation data you’ll need for large-scale applications:
Type of data provided: property, mobility
Veraset is a leading provider of geolocation data. Our “Movement” dataset is sourced from thousands of mobile apps, and provides an accurate snapshot of human mobility around points of interest in over 150 countries worldwide. Meanwhile, our “Visits” dataset provides precise polygon-based building footprints for over 6 million places in the US. It combines that data with location updates from over 20 million US mobile devices daily to precisely determine if someone visited a point of interest, and when.
Type of data provided: point of interest, business listing, polygon, transaction
SafeGraph has several types of geolocation data globally. Their Places dataset contains detailed information on over 40 million points of interest, and their Geometry dataset features accurate polygon building footprints – including spatial hierarchy metadata – for those places. SafeGraph also sells a series of datasets called Spend, which provide anonymized and aggregated credit and debit transactions at individual points of interest throughout the US.
3. Wejo & Otonomo
Type of data provided: vehicle
Wejo and Otonomo both provide GPS data sourced from computers inside vehicles, not handheld mobile devices. Since there are usually a lot of cars on the road every day, this data is of high enough density to be useful for several analyses. These include traffic patterns, route lengths and times, and driver behavior. The main downside, however, is this data is only collected when someone is driving in their car (as opposed to walking somewhere with their mobile phone).
Type of data provided: point of interest, vehicle
TomTom is a well-known mapping and traffic data company that provides GPS navigation devices for vehicles. Its API also allows for gathering geolocation data from its devices, though origin and destination attributes are often obscured. This limits the range of analysis that can be done with the data.
Type of data provided: mobility
RootMetrics uses cellular network data from phone towers as a method of geolocating people with mobile devices. However, because potential ground-based obstacles can obscure tower signals, this data is not as precise as GPS.
We hope this guide has given you a better understanding of what geolocation data is, where it comes from, and how powerful it can be for solving problems in various commercial and non-commercial settings. Visit our “Products” page to learn more about our Movement and Visits datasets, and how they can assist your organization’s work.