By Lynnette Luna
When the Federal Communications Commission mandated enhanced-911 capabilities 2001, the mobile industry had its eye on monetizing the requirement by offering mass-market navigation services. Seven years later, 2008 is becoming what Yankee Group calls the turning point for location-based services in North America as the majority of handsets now have integrated GPS capabilities and all major mobile operators plan to offer at least one GPS-based navigation application this year.
"We have taken as an industry people driving and walking around with paper maps to where customers expect a great mapping experience on their mobile devices," said Dave Singer, vice president and general manager of the Americas with mapping and navigation solution provider Telmap.
Indeed, mobile operators have now discovered a financial incentive to leverage their E911 investments and bring consumer navigation services to market, notes Jill Aldort, senior analyst with Yankee Group, in a recent report. "With the first indications that consumers would pony up $10 per month for driving directions, operators (namely Verizon and Sprint) painted their marketing campaigns with LBS."
Mapping and navigation applications aren't just about reading a map on a mobile screen anymore. It's now about premium services such as turn-by-turn directions, 3D maps, traffic overlays, inserting landmarks and points of interest to ultimately location-based advertising, social networking and mobile gaming, Singer said.
Verizon Wireless, partnering with Networks in Motion, is already encompassing several advanced features through its BREW-based VZ Navigator, which allows subscribers to use audible turn-by-turn directions to find their way to any address. VZ Navigator can also direct users to some 14 million points of interest, landmarks, restaurants and ATMs. The core of VZ Navigator is its GPS positioning features, which tells users where they are and which points of interest are nearby. It's estimated that VZ Navigator supports more than 1 million subscribers.
Telmap is working with a host of BREW operators, most recently partnering with Mexico's Grupo Iusacell to deliver a white-labeled mobile navigation application. The service includes Telmap-powered location-based turn-by-turn driving and walking directions with voice, graphic and text-based guidance to subscribers' mobile phones. It also offers maps , free-text local search capabilities along with advanced address search capabilities with auto-complete and fuzzy matching to enable users to find what they are looking for even with partial information or misspelled words.
TeleCommunications Systems (TCS), which offers a host of location solutions to carriers, government and public safety, works with developers by offering up a mapping server similar to Google's and allowing them to create applications using the server across various platforms, including BREW, Java and Windows Mobile.
TCS recently expanded its relationship with regional CDMA operator nTelos to enable the operator to offer a BREW-based turn-by-turn navigation application called Rand McNally Navigator, which was developed by TCS. This version of Navigator enables users to access real-time, voice-based turn-by-turn directions from their mobile devices as well as find points-of-interest and navigate to that location. But a key element of the deployment is location roaming, said Sean Murphy, director of mobile products with TCS.
"One of the things we've been driving from an industry perspective is LBS roaming and cross-network LBS support," Murphy said. "Regardless of what network an end-user is on, they can leverage the same LBS services they are accustomed to on a daily basis."
LBS roaming is especially critical for operators like nTelos, which don't have a national presence and rely on big operators such as Sprint and Verizon for service outside of their operating areas. "The worst thing that can happen is having your navigation or directions applications stop in a strange city," Murphy said.
TCS is also focusing on mapping capability that goes beyond the automobile-whether an end user needs to find his or her way while walking, hiking, bicycling or riding various forms of public transportation.
"The states have been so focused on driving directions in the car, while Japan and others have been focusing on alternative modes other than driving," Murphy noted. "WE are seeing a lot of requests in the U.S. now for a travel guide. If someone is in New York they might not have a vehicle but will still need help to navigate from point A to point B ... I may walk and then take the metro. I need all of that information to help me navigate."
And going forward, expect to see much more integration of navigation services, starting with a search for the nearest sushi restaurant along with turn-by-turn directions on how to get there. This integration trend should eventually turn into more sophisticated applications such as LBS-based mobile advertising.
Telmap is current in trials with a CDMA operator outside of the U.S. for a mobile advertising application. "That advertising model is the next step in maps and directions , and from our standpoint, part of an overall location-based solution," Singer said.