Finding your way to an unfamiliar location is more often than not a herculean task. Most of the times it means asking passers-by and blindly following directions given by them without knowing whether they are right or wrong. Luckily, here technology has come to our rescue.
We can now pinpoint any location on a map and get directions to it easily (in some cases voice guided directions are also available) and this is just one of the benefits that Location-based Services (LBS) have to offer.
Location-based applications can change the way people experience everyday activities like traveling, shopping, eating, watching movie, playing games, doing businesses or even taking a picture.
What is LBS?A report by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) defines Location-based services as “information as well as entertainment services, accessible through mobile network which uses geographical position of mobile handset to offer relevant content.”
IAMAI classifies them into four categories namely maps and navigation; tracking services (like tracking vehicle, traffic updates, tracking friends etc); information services (local searched, city guide, weather updates etc); and applications (such as social networking, context advertising etc).
These services could be GPS-enabled as well as non GPS based. GPS (Global Positioning System) is a system which uses satellite communication to connect with a mobile handset and accurately pinpoint the desired location. It gives accuracy ranging between 10-100 meters of the actual location. The disadvantage it has is that it does not fare well indoors.
On the other hand, non GPS LBS systems i.e. which do not use satellite signals, depend on the radio signals transmitted from different ground based station. In this method accuracy varies between positioning technologies and gives accuracy of around 500 meters of the actual location.
Another technology that has come up and is available in all high end mobile phones along with GPS is A-GPS (Assisted Global Positioning System). A-GPS improves the performance of GPS receivers using an assistance server (usually mobile cell sites) to provide satellite data that receivers would ordinarily have to download from GPS satellites.
Nowadays GPS along with A-GPS is emerging as the preferred medium to push LBS because it gives accuracy of 5-10 meters of the actual location and in some cases can be used indoors as well.
Revenue GeneratorTelco’s are betting big on mobile value added services to boost the constantly dropping ARPU’s which are affecting the their revenues adversely. This is driving them to move beyond offering ringtones and wallpapers in the name of value added services (VAS).
The constant need to offer something extra has led to the advent of whole bouquet of services on mobile phones be it gaming or social networking or emailing.
Also, if we look at the current scenario VAS is acting as a tool for differentiation amongst operators. In this case, location based services are emerging as a promising option.
According to a report on LBS, mobile VAS accounts to around 10 percent of the total telecom revenues and LBS constitutes nearly 38 percent of the total VAS revenue. This percentage is expected to witness tremendous growth in the times to come.
Naveen Ramakrishnan, senior business consultant, Endeavour Software Technologies said, “LBS is picking up in India and will boom in 3-4 years. Currently the LBS market size is around 20-25 million and should reach 78 million by 2012-2013.”
Globally revenues of telecom companies from LBS alone has increased more than eight times in the last 4-5 years.
At a recent conference on LBS Rakesh Trivedi, general manager, TTSL said, “LBS has several business cases and is a gold mine waiting to be tapped. We are currently looking at offering business to business services. These include tracking services and asset management services.”
Industry experts believe that the reason for LBS not taking off is more due to supply side constraints rather than demand side and if operators adopt the right business model, LBS can generate significant revenues. Operators need to show more commitment towards offering LBS and target the right market segment.
Stumbling BlocksKedar Sohoni, president, Informate Mobile Intelligence points out, “Although these services have a lot of potential, they are more complex to offer as compared to static services.”
Main challenge that these services face in India is availability of quality map data and point of interest (POI) data. It is absolutely necessary to compile data through a comprehensive GIS (Geographic information system) for mapping information regarding POI (eg. cinema halls, petrol pump, restaurant etc.). GIS coverage is an embryonic stage and is available only in major cities.
This needs to be expanded.
Additionally awareness level amongst users is very low. Since the services are new to the users, they are apprehensive about cost and privacy issues.
John Chen, business development manager, India and Middle East region, Asus Technology says, “People here are not yet used to using navigation mainly because of habit. Also, there is a perception about it being expensive. If you see outside India, in countries like USA and Europe people are used to navigation, there you’ll find a navigation device in almost every car.”
The next challenge is availability of GPS and A-GPS devices for the mass market. However, with the smartphones becoming a rage amongst the people (mainly due to their falling prices), this issue will be easier to deal with.
What LBS can doAt present use of location based services in limited to maps. Sohoni observes, “The trends that we have observed show that maps like Google maps and Nokia maps have seen good amount of usage, they are very popular. Meanwhile, other services have failed to pick up.”
The potential of these services lies in the fact that they can be tied up with any other value-added services be it social networking, enterprise services or even mobile games and advertising.
Rakesh Mahajan, vice president, marketing and business head, VAS and Incubation Mobile Services, Airtel had earlier told Telecom Yatra, “Location awareness is very important for every VAS service as LBS can be offered as standalone service or can be clubbed with other services without being marketed as such.”
Nitish Mittersain, chief executive officer, Nazara Technologies, “The scope of location based services is tremendous across genres like entertainment, m-commerce, mobile advertising and business applications. In fact LBS will give mobile advertising a good boost.”
Sharing the same view, Naveen Ramakrishnan, senior business consultant, Endeavour Software Technologies, “Location-based marketing and advertisement has a big scope.”
Also, telco’s can look at advertisement based LBS or proximity advertisement, which has a potential of being a major revenue generator, it gives information on discounts and offer on different products and services to user as he nears within a certain range of the store.
Mittersain further informs, “We are also experimenting with it and are working at using LBS in gaming. It is already present in some markets and doing pretty well.”
Another service that will pick up would be voice guided navigation which comes in very handy while driving. The voice commands tell you the estimated distance of travel and where to take turns. It also guides you through the shortest route or a route with lesser traffic.
Location based services can also prove very useful in rural areas. For eg. LBS can be used to provide weather information to a fisherman on the high seas. In fact, IVR or SMS, which don’t require a high end device, can be used to take the services to the less educated mobile users. LBS can even be be used to assist health care.
Also, the potential of LBS in times of emergency and disaster management can not be ignored.
Meanwhile, an area where use of LBS cannot be ignored is the enterprise services. Services like fleet management and resource tracking are set to become one of the main revenue generators.
Ramakrishnan said , “LBS are of great importance specially when integrated with enterprise applications. We offer LBS based enterprise applications and they are doing well.”
An interesting application of these services will be Mobile Augmented Reality Browser which basically enables in getting real time information as seen from camera of the mobile handset. It needs a camera mobile phone, GPS connection and Layar mobile app.
Future: Definitely brightThe industry seems to be quite confident that location based services are here to stay and given the application to which these can be put to use, it shouldn’t be a surprise.
In the near future mobile phones will also be able to support a high-end 3D mapping GPS application, with the roll out of 3G services. And who knows in future, location-based application of our mobile could drive the car as well!
But for all this to come true the operators, handset manufacturers, application developers and content providers need to come together to create a conducive environment for growth of LBS.