A Jack and Jill story

Dec 2007 | No Comment

Acknowledging the role of LBS

They went up a hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his bone and Jill came tumbling after… And now they need medical attention and must locate a medical center soon. How far is the nearest hospital? How do they get there from the accursed hill? What is their current location? They need location-based services (LBS). “What is LBS?” asks Jill.

Location based services are locationspecific information, such as restaurants, ATMs, hospitals, traffic conditions, and weather information, provided to mobile users within a measurable radius from a specific location. This ‘mobile content’ is obtained using GPS (Global Positioning System) which utilizes a constellation of satellites in Earth’s orbit that transmit precise microwave signals, enabling a GPS receiver in a mobile device to determine its location, speed, direction, and time. LBS has its roots in GIS (Geographical Information System) technologies, communication technologies, and the Internet with all its information. Its architecture consists of five basic components: mobile devices, positioning, communication network, service providers, and content providers, all of which interact in the processing chain of the service request sent by the user. If Jill had a GPS-enabled cell phone, it is capable of establishing her location (positioning) such that when she seeks emergency services (communication network) from that location, the agent providing the voice telephony service (service provider) directs the request to a database (content provider) containing the emergency services information for that location, which is then returned to the cell phone along with the corresponding navigation instructions.

How huge is the hill?

According to the recent press release by ABI Research, GPS-enabled handset market is expected to generate over $100 Billion in revenues in 2012.

The recent spate of acquisitions and mergers in the LBS market is a sign of an increasing commercial and popular interest in location-awareness. Nokia, a mobile device manufacturing major, has acquired Navteq, one of the leading providers of comprehensive digital map information for automotive navigation systems, mobile navigation devices, internet-based mapping applications, and government and business solutions. Tele Atlas, another popular mapping data provider has been acquired by TomTom. ABI Research industry analyst Shailendra Pandey observes, “The ongoing consolidation in the mobile industry … gives a clear indication of the plans and commitment of industry players to address the GPS-enabled handset market.”

“But I do not have GPS on my phone,” says Jill

There has been a parallel swell in the development of various location based technologies. Google has launched “My Location” which uses information broadcasted, not by satellites through GPS but, by cell towers to find the location of a mobile device using the triangulation method. SiRF, a manufacturer of GPS chipsets for navigation systems, has licensed Skyhook’s WPS (Wi-fi Positioning System), a single positioning system based on the Wi-fi network for wireless carriers that combines the best of GPS and Wi-fi technology.

First services are already available for mobile phone users, such as Family Finder, weather information, and city events. Phone makers now support GPS phones for social networking and mobile gaming. GyPSii Symbian is a geo-location and social networking platform that combines location-based news and services, such as search and friend-finder, and user generated content-creation and sharing. Nokia has given its official authorization to the Symbian application for its N95 and 6110 Navigator mobile phones.

The Universal Address System developed by NAC Geographic Products Inc. has introduced a highly impressive unified representation of an address, such that the entire Earth can be digitized using the latitute, longitute, and altitude information of any given place. An eight character universal address can uniquely specify every building in the world and a ten character universal address can uniquely specify any square meter. MLBS is a comprehensive wireless LBS powered by Natural Area Coding (NAC) technology and Microsoft’s MapPoint web service.

“Where are we?” cries Jack, “How far away?”

The telecom industry in India, as in the rest of the world, is currently surging a record high in power and reach and witnessing a burgeoning of allied technologies. Mobile devices have reached the lowest common social denominator acquiring millions of new subscribers every month. With the progressive subscriber not satisfied with mere voice communication, their increasing demand for more value-added, multimedia-rich data exchange has led to a virtual war among telecom companies for a broader radio frequency 3G spectrum to support such content. One happy outcome of this situation is the dissemination of relevant information that is made accessible with mobile devices through the mobile network by using the location information of the mobile device and the recent developments are positive indicators.

Personal navigation devices (PND) have gained considerable amplitude in India. With more private firms offering advanced features in the PNDs, such as MapMyIndia Navigator and SatGuide, while keeping the costs affordable, the corporate competition is leveraged to consumer advantage.

India’s state-owned telecom giant, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) is the first operator to launch LBS on Telenity’s Canvas® LES, Location Enabling Server. Catching up with the latest innovations in the industry, the enterprise will now offer real time fleet and asset management, friend finder alerts, location based advertisement, and location based chatting service. Capitalizing on the rich and varied language base in India, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) is offering multilingual short messaging service (SMS) in 11 regional languages. This vibrant layout is generating tremendous interest for giant internet portals, such as MSN, who are investing in the Indian telecom companies to provide location-based search.

Bharti Airtel Limited, one of India’s leading private sector providers of telecommunications, joined Fixed-Mobile Convergence Alliance (FMCA) to share the developments in convergence of fixedline and mobile wireless technologies such that they can seamlessly blend all the services they have to offer over a unified framework. This Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) will thus enable the service provider to become a one-stop shop for purchase as well as support. For FMC to make subscriber-centric multiple offerings a closer reality, broadband and Wi-Fi networks need to be aggressively expanded, and the process of its entry in India has already started with Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) framing the last recommendations for 3G spectrum services.

Personal Navigation Devices will surpass 100 million Units by 2011

The consumer navigation market has seen unprecedented levels of activity and growth in 2007, mainly driven by PNDs (personal navigation devices) which offer a compelling mix of ease of use, features, portability, and affordability. As an established mass market CE category, PND markets will continue to grow strongly to reach a global sales volume of more than 100 million units by 2011. Dedicated PNDs will remain the preferred form factor for use in the car but will be complemented by handset-based systems for pedestrian navigation and new use cases such as outdoors. New form factors such as portable media players, ultra mobile PCs, Internet tablets and mobile Internet devices will also appear.

Europe is currently the leading navigation market, but strong growth is expected in developing countries such as China and India. By 2012 more navigation systems will ship in Asia-Pacific than in any other region.

The high levels of competition and price pressure will result in continued consolidation and vertical integration, as evidenced by the acquisition of the two main digital map providers, NAVTEQ and Tele Atlas. An important driver for consolidation is the need to aggregate user communities under strong brands to take advantage of the potential of user-generated map and POI (point of interest) content. Navigation vendors are looking to differentiate their offers by adding speech technology, multimedia features and 3D map content, and by targeting specific segments.

Jill says, “I suppose we have to deal with broken bones sometimes.”

In addition to technological developments, policy level developments have been taking place in parallel setting up India as a global player in the industry. One of the recent landmark developments is the New Map Policy brought out by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, which promises better access to the maps generated by Survey of India. Survey of India is the central agency in charge of surveying, publishing, maintaining and dissemination of the topographic map database of the country. Although encumbered by a few regulatory issues, it is nonetheless a significant step forward in the direction of making all new Open Series maps to be made available in the public domain.

Another conducive development has been the recent reclassification of GPRS phones by the Central Board of Excise and Customs as radio navigational devices incurring a reduced excise of 4%, going back on their earlier classification as satellite phones which incured an import tariff of 34%. Although this development makes it difficult to keep the cost of GPS applications on standalone units affordable in a price-sensitive economy, LBS providers dependent on GPS have worked around this impediment to their advantage by bundling GPS with GPRS phones. A GPS-enabled mobile device, essentially a GPRS phone, now becomes affordable by including GPS as a ‘valueadded’ offering (a secondary feature), thus doing away with the additional 34% taxes. Ashutosh Pandey, Managing Director, SiRF India speaks to Coordinates in July 2007: “In doing so, the government gave relief to the privileged – those that could afford to purchase a mobile phone costing more that 20,000 Rupees. At the same time, it kept the much needed products in the census, safety, security, and even pure navigational category at the high rate of duty (34%), out of reach of average users”.

“This is crazy,” says Jack, “let’s just get a driver.”

In a culture-vibrant and language-rich country, such as India, all technology is subject to cultural and linguistic nuances. This is a friendly nation where a mere act of seeking navigation assistance help is a welcome mode of social interaction and any attempt introducing technology as a replacement amounts to bringing about a cultural change. Add to that the variety of Indian languages and dialects that technology has to cater to reach a critical mass. Consequently, it becomes a mammoth task to arrive at a common conventional nomenclature for addresses of locations which may run into several long words, given the Indian propensity to name their roads after their heroes and leaders. Besides, most roads that have a formal name and a commonly used name do not make the task of nomenclature any easier.

By virtue of the booming economy and real estate, there are several new retail outlets, multiplexes, apartment complexes, highcapacity bus and rail ways springing up even as we speak. Extremely systematic and methodical procedures need to be in place to record and update the increasingly volatile topography. This entails a very high cost of investment and maintenance of equipment used to document and update geographic data. Besides, being expensive, LBS is a fancy technology targeted more towards the upper middle class, who are most likely to have drivers who are expected to know the way.

“How did they know we need help?” Jill wonders

LBS technology comes with its own array of inherent imperfections, which, if not appropriately guarded, may transform itself into a certain invasion of locationrelated personal privacy. The knowledge of a certain satellite constantly tracking and monitoring one’s movement is as unnerving as the knowledge of that information being used by analysts to predict behavioral patterns and by advertisers to interpret consumer preferences. Such technology may restrict or dictate movement, a phenomenon lucidly termed as ‘geoslavery’. Countries, such as the US, which are extremely sensitive to the concept of personal freedom, may be able to avoid the most serious abuses of this technology, but it may take a little longer for India to enforce stringent laws to protect personal privacy.

Jack and Jill finally fetch their pail of water

2008 holds a promising future for the LBS industry as seen by the major portals and corporations looking for business opportunities in India. Portal providers, such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN have placed location at the core of their offers pairing communication services with maps and local mobile search and mobile advertising. On the other hand, individual vendors are using locationbased services to turn mobile search services into profitable value propositions.

“We are developing an ecosystem of players in the LBS and navigation space – software and solution providers, mobile operators, handset manufacturers, automobile companies and PND manufacturers, to offer consumers high quality and pan India LBS applications … on the internet, on the mobile phone, and in-car.” Says Mr Rakesh Verma, CEO, MapMyIndia, CE Systems It is a win-win situation where customers will have more personalized information and network operators will address discreet market segments based on different service portfolios. In the US, the Enhanced 911 (E911) requirements enforced by the Federal Communications Commission was primarily responsible for propelling LBS, and later, the car and aircraft navigation experimented with and embraced the technology. In India, the fondness for information and the fascination with social networking appears to be the driving force behind the popularity of LBS. Opening up a few policies, tightening a few others, and pairing up location information with emergency services, as did E911, may perhaps be just the catalyst that is required to bring LBS in India into the mainstream. So the next time Jack and Jill fall from a hill, they will know exactly how close the nearest hospital is as well as the directions down to the last mile and around the nearest corner.

Global market worth $48.8 billion by 2012

According to a new technical market research report, from BCC Research, the global market for mobile location technologies will be worth $23.2 billion in 2007. This is expected to increase to over $48.8 billion by 2012, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.1%. The market is broken down into applications of vehicle navigation, surveying and mapping, machine control and others. Of these, vehicle navigation has the largest share of the market. Valued at nearly $15.5 billion in 2007, this segment is expected to be worth $38.2 billion by 2012, a CAGR of 19.8%. The second largest segment, surveying and mapping, was worth an estimated $2 billion in 2007 and will reach $3.2 billion by 2012. Machine control is currently a $1.1 billion segment that will be worth $2.1 billion in 2012, a CAGR of 13.4%.

While it was the Global Positioning Systems satellite system that launched the mobile location market, today nearly 75% of all applications use either augmented GPS technologies such as the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) or hybrid systems like wireless assisted- GPS (WA-GPS). By 2012, augmented and hybrid satellite location technologies’ share is projected to reach 84.1%.

The U.S. is expected to retain its position as the world’s largest market for mobile location technologies through 2012. Otherwise, Western Europe (i.e., the EU plus EFTA nations) should replace Japan as the second-largest geographical market. As a group, markets outside the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan are projected to increase their global market shares to 20% by 2012.

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