I am grateful to have been invited by the GSM Association to lead a session on the future of mobile location-based services, or LBS, at their Mobile World Conference, held this year Feb. 11-14 in Barcelona.
This year's show had it all: two knowledgeable session presenters and an interesting panel with five insightful experts, discussing trends and ideas that I will touch on below.
Navigating Your Way Through LBS Experiences
The first session presentation was by Michael Halbherr, vice president of Nokia LBS. In his presentation, titled "Navigating Your Way Through LBS Experiences," Halbherr said Nokia is going heavily into navigation and will likely become the leading mobile navigation company within a few years.
In addition, he discussed Nokia Maps, which is designed to help you drive, walk and share content about your current location with others. Nokia wants your cell phone to answer questions such as "Where am I?" and "Where are you?" Also, Halbherr said Nokia is planning "City Guides" to help people walk around public places and parks, and provide voice-guided walking tours.
Location's Place in the Mobile Internet Revolution
The next session presentation, titled "Location's Place in the Mobile Internet Revolution," was given by Gummi Hafsteinsson, a product manager at Google. Google's objective, according to Hafsteinsson, is to organize the world's information. Part of that objective is to make the information useful, and making it useful means providing full support for users-whether they are using a PC or a mobile phone.
Hafsteinsson said Google feels location is very important because it makes the results of searches more relevant. Google has a number of mobile initiatives in the mobile space, he added, including Android, mobile search and mobile maps.
Which Way to Go: The Right Technology for the Right Application
Following the two presentations, I moderated the panel session on the topic "Which Way to Go-the Right Technology for the Right Application." The panel consisted of Ronen Soffer, chief technology officer of Telmap; Mark White, founder and CEO of Locatrix Communications; Stephen Stuut, CEO of TruePosition; Tom Babin, knowledge management and discovery at Motolabs; and Kanwar Chadha, co-founder and vice president of marketing at SiRF Technologies. Comments by the panelists on mobile LBS included the following:
1. Accuracy: It's good enough for personal applications, but watch out for multipath problems where signals bounce off tall buildings and cause confusion in the algorithms. A-GPS (assisted-GPS) with server support helps prevent and manage the multipath problem.
2. Hybrid: Hybrid GPS with multiple solutions will win out in the long run. Example: A-GPS plus Wi-Fi positioning and S5 for indoor coverage might be an excellent long-term solution.
3. Pervasive: With low-cost (fewer than $5 per unit), we're finally going to find location in just about every device-and everywhere within the next few years. And, Enhanced 911 initiatives (particularly in the United States) will continue to help drive adoption.
4. Personal navigation devices: The high end of the market with larger screens is still happening, but most of the panelists felt that the cell phone will slowly replace most PNDs over the next five to seven years.
5. Privacy: This was a very big issue for the panel-trying to balance privacy of the individual with the need to access by legitimate law enforcement agencies. The "golf option" is still desired by most users (that is, being able to turn it off). But parents want to know where their children are, and law enforcement agencies want to have the ability to track people (with proper approvals such as court orders). There's a challenge in trying to balance individual privacy with other things such as preventing terrorism.
6. Overall, operators are coming around to support it, and cost is low enough in the devices that it will be pervasive before too long.
News from Six Mobile Vendor Meetings
I am not sure if it's more difficult being a vendor representative or an industry analyst at a large trade show such as the GSM Mobile World Congress. Everyone spends long hours and meets lots of people. I had a very demanding show schedule, with more than 25 meetings, plus my panel session, in the three days I was there. I told my fianc??Â«e, Alicia, that I hated the grind of having seven to eight meetings a day, rushing from one place to another, and then going out late for dinner (restaurants don't open until 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. in Spain).
But there were some golden meetings that made the trip worth it. They were my meetings with Bango, SNAPin, Cellmania, Visto, VeriSign and RealNetworks. I will end this column with the following news from these six vendors:
Bango: I spoke with CEO Ray Anderson about his company's plan to get real analytics on the wireless market, both to support advertising as well as network behavior-without invading anyone's privacy. This is challenging but will provide much needed quantification of what's actually happening on wireless networks.
SNAPin: This is a very clever company that is, initially, handling the most typical customer service inquiries onboard the handset. It has recently added tutorials to reduce the call load, and it is going to turn tutorials into revenue generation for new services.
Cellmania: This has quietly become a very profitable company, working with wireless operators to deliver content to subscribers. I have always liked CEO Ronjon Nag, who told me about his company's recent acquisition of MSX.
Visto: I was surprised to see that my old friend Doug Brackbill, the company's original CEO, has returned to become executive vice president of sales and marketing. This gives Visto a strong resource who is well-liked in the analyst community.
VeriSign: I was also surprised to learn from Chirag Bakshi, vice president of wireless, that VeriSign is spinning out its successful and profitable business.
RealNetworks: I enjoyed very lively interaction with Analisa Roberts at RealNetworks. We discussed the company's mobile assets, including ring tones and mobile music. We also talked about what can be done to offer Rhapsody streaming channels on the iPhone and iPod, as well as through the entire wireless ecosystem.
J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D., is vice president and chief analyst with the Frost & Sullivan North American Information & Communication Technologies Practice. As a nationally recognized industry authority, he focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and market behavior in the mobile computing and wireless data communications industry in North America.
Since joining Frost & Sullivan in 2006, Dr. Purdy has been specializing in mobile and wireless devices, wireless data communications, and connection to the infrastructure that powers the data in the wireless handheld. He is author of Inside Mobile & Wireless, which provides industry insights and reaches more than 100,000 readers per month.
For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people's mind-sets, and developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, his ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile and wireless industry. He has a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford University. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Disclosure statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column. If that situation happens, then I'll disclose it at that time.