HomeMobile EuropeA year in mobile: Location Based Services - Getting on the map

    A year in mobile: Location Based Services – Getting on the map


    It kind of started and ended with Nokia, although there was a lot else going on as well

    It was a tale of one city, two announcements, from Nokia, as it used Barcelona as the background for two significant LBS announcements. The first came in February, as it announced Nokia Maps 2.0. Here is how we reported it:

    "Nokia came with two new services and four handsets. Services first: the first was a second version of Nokia Maps, which adds pedestrian navigation (that's pedestrian as in people walking, not as in 'slow') as well as geo-tagging.

    Geo-tagging is a term that describes the automatic addition of GPS co-ordinates to photographs, so that they can automatically be attached to maps, or just display their location. The pedestrian application looks a bit like an in-car version, except it is for people walking about. The service is available on Nokia Beta Labs now. Nokia says it will sell more GPS enabled devices this year than the entire personal navigation devices market did last year – so that's an indication of how important Nokia thinks location and mapping has become. The reason is the company is gunning for 'context' aware services, that combine place and time with services.

    The operators will like this, of course, as they are the ones with the network info Ðalthough of course with GPS they are not in control. It remains to be seen, though, if GPS will be enough. What if your 'context' is that you are in a basement bar? How's the GPS fix going there?"
    Then, as you may have seen on our news pages, Nokia returned to Barcelona to bring us Maps 3.0, and also put mapping onto Ovi.

    "The services take the vendor into a head-on fight with Google and other web-based service providers for mapping, navigation and messaging services, as well as extending Nokia's competitiveness with mobile operators keen to do the same.

    Nokia says the combination of Nokia Maps plus Ovi is the first free service that allows people to synchronise PC mapping with their mobile. It has also enhanced the Nokia Maps service to include high-resolution aerial images, 3D landmarks for 216 cities and terrain maps, as well as a new route overview within Drive, its paid-for navigation service."

    But although Nokia, leveraging its acquisition of Navteq, may have dominated, it wasn't all about one player, or indeed all about navigation. There was focus on other applications.  as David Adams wrote for us in September.

    "ITV News is considering using LBS provide mobile users with a certain amount of local news, content determined by knowledge of the user's location, even if the user is not actually conscious of this information being passed to the service provider.
    Google's strategy is not driven by a desire to compete directly with the most accurate LBS. "Any operator can, in principle, implement a more accurate solution provider, and there's no reason they can't charge for that," says Wiles. "The important point is we're making it easy for users and developers to use location."

    But still the mobile operators refuse to get swept away by all this enthusiasm. There have been some interesting developments over the last 18 months, including Vodafone's Telmap-based Sat Nav application, launched in the UK for users of the BlackBerry Curve 8310 at the end of 2007, but in the main they have remained cautious.

    Fergal Walker, director of product management at 3, outlines a fairly typical operator's perspective. "There are two main reasons why LBS hasn't taken off as quickly as people expected," he says. "Firstly the GPS model – people are interested in navigation and specialist applications so there hasn't been a demand for LBS. The second is around privacy. People are very concerned about revealing their location. Unless the industry can find a way to reassure people that the customer can remain in control of information about their location it is going to remain a barrier to uptake."?

    Bill Barnes, general manager for location products at middleware provider Openwave, believed it might be worth considering some slightly more abstract ways that mobile operators could seek to monetise some aspects of the data that handset tracking offers. "Where [operators] can track their subscribers in an anonymous way and offer some of the data they get about mass user behaviour to somebody else they'll have a set of data that is current or accurate at the time, as opposed to predictive or historical," says Barnes. "I'm sure there will be some creative things coming through connected to that. It's not going to generate millions, but it will be something they can use to generate a return from the investment they've made."

    But there was keen interest in two deals that Geosentric pulled off with Garmin and Nokia to deploy its Gypsii technology.

    "Garmin anticipates that future products will include friend finding applications that support the GyPSii-powered location-based social networking services platform."

    As for Nokia, Gypsii was incorporated into the Nokia 5800  XpressMusic phone.
    "GyPSii is ideally placed as the leading innovative application that incorporates social networking and communities with location-aware features – in particular, the ability to provide a location and social graph context to any media captured on the device. GyPSii's ability to deliver a touch screen experience in one integrated application is key to the Nokia Touch device customer," said Jure Sustersic, Business Development Manager at Forum Nokia EMEA.

    But there is one company that thinks it has another way to stitch together location, as we heard in August – the company is one of a few that is mapping  WiFi hotspots as a means of providing a location fix.

    "This company is using WiFi to provide location. How? Well, it keeps a dynamic database of all the WiFi hotspots and access points it can lay its hands on, by conducting drive-through surveys. It then gives each access point a precise location. So when a user turns his iPhone, or any other WiFi enabled device on, it is able to provide a location based on the WiFi zone it is in. The company is called Skyhook, and its ceo Ted Morgan says he thinks WiFi location can provide the missing link in the location world.?  Skyhook has already mapped over 16 million Wi-Fi access points in Europe, and now provides coverage to over 130 million people in Europe.  "Skyhook's European expansion is an important step towards our goal of delivering consumer-ready location across any environment, indoors or outside," said Ted Morgan, CEO of Skyhook Wireless."
    Location, then, seems to have arrived. Now it is, finally, going to be all about developing further applications.