IP address geolocation reporting is becoming less accurate

Using IP addresses to calculate location has always had its flaws. You might not want to count on your web analytics map overlays or geosegmentation reports for anything more granular than country.

Mobile is changing the web. A good analyst will track the success coming from mobile devices, mobile optimized platforms and mobile marketing channels. One trend they may not be keeping tabs on though, is the percentage of total web traffic coming from mobile networks, regardless of device type.

Cisco recently released their report on mobile data traffic

The Mobile Network in 2010 and 2011
Global mobile data traffic grew 2.6-fold in 2010, nearly tripling for the third year in a row. The 2010 mobile data traffic growth rate was higher than anticipated. Last year’s forecast projected that the growth rate would be 149 percent. This year’s estimate is that global mobile data traffic grew 159 percent in 2010.

An increasing share of web views are coming through mobile 3G and now 4G networks. More devices are being sold mobile network enabled.

This is bad news for the usefulness of IP based geo reports. In the past, you may have seen geo web analytics data that had an AOL segment. This was because AOL routed all their dialup traffic through a central gateway. Mobile networks also exhibit similar behavior. When someone is using a mobile network, the IP based geolocation ends up being the location of the carrier’s gateway.

Tonight I opened up my android phone here in San Francisco and used one geolocation service that identified my location as Huntington Beach over 400 miles away.

HTML5 offers the GeoLocation API, which examples a number of ways to determine location (GPS being the best), but because of privacy concerns, each site that wants to tap into a browser’s location has to be allowed permission.

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