CTIA – Several Weeks Later

By David H. Williams

The tradeshow exhibits are long gone, the flurry of press releases passed, and in general the dust has subsided from CTIA Wireless 2006 (April 5-7, Las Vegas). The question: did CTIA represent anything new for the Location-Based Services world? The answer - to put it mildly – is a resounding “yes.” LBS is back in the wireless mainstream after many years of frustration and missteps.

Key highlights include:
  • Major corporations – wireless and otherwise - from Disney to Intel to Sprint Nextel to TI announcing major LBS initiatives
  • Strong growth in exhibits for personal and fleet navigation services, including associated traffic information, with mobile search starting to attract interest
  • Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) continuing to make their presence known after last year’s launch of Amp’d and ESPN Mobile, with companies such as Disney Mobile (via Sprint Nextel) and Helio (via SK Telecom/Earthlink) announcing tracking applications early in their business lifecycle
  • Voice over IP and Wi-Fi in the cell phone showing strong signs of accelerating, with location-enabled Wi-Fi starting to breakout
    • Skyhook Wireless wins Navigation Category of NAVTEQ LBS Challenge with Loki product
    • Phone makers such as Samsung introducing Wi-Fi enabled VoIP phone; Motorola and Nokia following soon
  • LBS Privacy concerns heating up, with a variety of new technologies introduced at the show
  • Chip companies such as Intel, Sirf, Qualcomm and TI being prominent in extolling the virtues of their chipsets in powering LBS applications
  • NAVTEQ LBS Challenge Winners being selected out of more than 240 applicants, up from 40 four years ago:
    • Business Applications - Tierravision’s Workspace Locator (San Diego, CA) - LBS application providing a convenient mapping interface for workspace CRM and GPS tracking of users. Tierravision was the overall winner for the event.
    • Entertainment and Leisure Category - Loc-aid Treasure from LOC-AID – a location-based treasure hunt game (developed on ESRI)
    • Navigation Category - Loki from Skyhook Wireless – a mass consumer LBS application using Wi-Fi to match the users’ location and incorporate it into their search to enable delivery of location-sensitive information.
    • Social Networking Category – Proxpro – a professional profile research utility to locate friends and contacts (developed using Autodesk LS)
A few other areas were of particular note. First, a number of major players have started to recognize the importance of robust application developer programs and have started major upgrades/enhancements to their offerings. Look for more announcements over the remainder of this year.

The second is an issue that has become even more apparent in the weeks since CTIA and that is around 3rd party access to end-user latitude/longitude information. There is clearly a wide range of carrier and technology challenges to gain access to this information. The carriers themselves range from being relatively open to 3rd party providers in terms of access to lat/long and providing APIs/tools to do so (Sprint Nextel), to carriers essentially adopting a “closed” system that makes it very challenging to do business with them (Verizon Wireless), to GSM carriers that are starting to revamp their approach to LBS because of the impending A-GPS integration into GSM handsets over the next year or so. Talking to several companies at CTIA and in the weeks afterwards I came away with a strong sense of frustration with how difficult it was - particularly for smaller companies - to get lat/long information from even the most open carriers. While carriers continue to profess not “wanting to be the experts” in LBS, many of them continue to hold the lat/long cards tightly to their chests - some for understandable reasons, such as privacy concerns or wanting to protect future “in-house” applications - and some for reasons not so clear.

There are signs that this situation is starting to change, though not necessarily because the carriers are becoming more open. The advent of MVNOs, such as Disney Mobile, that want to own their customers and control their own content is starting to open up lat/long to “outsiders” who can provide another potential channel for LBS entrepreneurs. In addition, developments such as the proliferation of Wi-Fi networks and the emergence of Wi-Fi enabled phones and mobile Voice over IP will offer LBS application providers a way around carrier obstacles to providing location data. “Location-enabled” Wi-Fi uses service providers such as Skyhook Wireless and Microsoft’s Location Finder to determine an end-user’s location - often with as much accuracy as GPS and sometimes better. Essentially this approach has a Wi-Fi device detecting the Wi-Fi networks and signals in its vicinity and comparing, or “triangulating,” the readings to those made by hundreds of drive-testers roaming the country and “GPS-stamping” the readings from Wi-Fi networks to find a match. Such an approach is completely independent of the customer’s carrier.

While issues such as easy lat/long access and others like consistent privacy approaches will continue to need innovative solutions in the LBS space, CTIA 2006 made it clear that finally - finally! - location-based services have made it back to the wireless mainstream, and are here to stay.

Published Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

Written by David H. Williams

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