GPS Services in Works for Cell Phones

TeleNav GPS service provides driving directions and tracking services for Nextel phones.

Nextel Communications Inc. is working with a GPS company to bring driving directions and tracking services to its mobile phones.

Location-based service company Televigation Inc. this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas will launch TeleNav GPS for Nextel. The service provides voice-enabled, turn-by-turn directions for phones that run on the Nextel network. The phones must be equipped with Global Positioning System hardware as well as Java technology for the software download. Java phones without GPS can be equipped with it using a connection kit from Televigation.

The system works much like integrated systems in rental cars. A user enters the driving destination into the phone through voice or keypad; the phone then delivers direction instructions in real time, both graphically on the screen and verbally through the phones speaker, as the user drives. If the driver misses a turn, the system calculates a new route. Nextel uses iDen phones from Motorola Inc., which work like walkie-talkies and function as speakerphones by default.

The service, which costs $7 per month, is available now.

"We are providing the back-end operation while Nextel provides the platform to make it available to their customers through their Java application Web site," said H.P. Jin, CEO of Televigation, in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Within three months, Televigation and Nextel plan to launch an enterprise version of the system, which lets IT managers or any other managers enter data into a mobile employees phone remotely. The enterprise version will also enable employers to track the location of their employees phones. "We want to help fleets increase their productivity," Jin said, listing trucking and taxi companies as likely initial customers. But he added that the service is appropriate for any typical business traveler because it resides on the phone and not in the vehicle. That said, the phone must be in plain view—sitting on or near a dashboard, for example—to work properly.

"GPS signals dont travel through metal [such as] car roofs, or masonry or heavy vegetation," said Christopher Bell, chief technology officer of People2People Group Inc., in Boston, who travels with GPS hardware from Garmin International Inc. in his car. "My GPS unit works great on the dashboard and very poorly if I hold it near my ear."

Companies such as Garmin, of Olathe, Kan., have been developing GPS systems for years, using signals that the U.S. government sends out from a collection of 24 satellites.

But major wireless carriers have only recently begun to explore location-based services for their own networks, mainly because the law requires it. A Federal Communications Commission mandate called E911 (Enhanced 911) requires carriers to incorporate technology that provides emergency workers with a way to track all 911 calls from wireless phones.

According to the initial directive rolled out in 1999, the carriers were supposed to have finished the early stages of E911 implementations by now, but the FCC has been lenient with the varying deadlines.