Good News! LBS Developments at CTIA IT Wireless & Entertainment 2006

By David H. Williams

September's Cellular Telephone Industry Association (CTIA) trade show in Los Angeles was much smaller than the April CTIA meeting - approximately 1/3rd the size (and this is not unusual for the fall show), but the amount of good news for the location-based services (LBS) market was not significantly less. While there were few major announcements from exhibitors, there was a considerable amount of LBS-related information being disseminated, particularly during the NAVTEQ LBS Developer Conference and the CTIA LBS breakout sessions. In this article, I report on some of the key highlights.

At the NAVTEQ LBS Developer Conference, former FCC commissioner Michael Powell offered an interesting perspective on the impact the youngest wireless users are having on the wireless market in general and will have on the LBS market specifically. He said young people are demanding non-stop connectivity and continual interaction with people and services, along with high expectations about being able to personalize those services. That includes recognizing the specific context of the user, which includes location. Numerous experts noted the "pacifier" effect of wireless phones (or perhaps a better phrase is the "umbilical cord" effect). It seems like half of the 12 to 21 year-old population is doing something with their cell phones at any given time and every conceivable location - talking, messaging, playing or just staring at it expecting something to happen. Location will be an essential component for this (and future) generations of wireless consumers.

Further illustrating this impact, several observers said they saw location-based entertainment - particularly mobile gaming and social networking - as key up-and-coming LBS application categories in the consumer space. In the business space, observers expect a lessening of employee hostility toward LBS, as evidence of its benefits mounts. This evidence includes anything from enabling 1 or 2 more sales calls per day for a mobile salesperson to clearing a garbage man of a violent crime charge when his GPS device proved he was not in the vicinity.

"Clear business case, clear business model
" was the mantra of speaker after speaker at the conference, from carriers, venture capitalists, past NAVTEQ Global LBS Challenge winners and the judges of the upcoming 2007 Challenge. No exaggeration, I must have heard some variation on this theme at least 100 times during the conference. While this might give some developers pause, I view it as a positive development. It shows that the LBS market is maturing and getting more sophisticated as the focus evolves from a preoccupation with the technology to profitably satisfying users needs.

Cingular and T-Mobile were a presence at CTIA in the LBS space, for the first time in a long time, with representatives on a number of NAVTEQ panels and in the breakout audience. While no new announcements were made, it seems clear that LBS is again rising on their radar screens - more good news for the industry. All four carriers emphasized a commitment to working with the LBS developer community; expect to see a continued flow of developer-related announcements from the carriers as we move into 2007.

Not all the news was positive. After the last CTIA conference I reported a strong sense of frustration in the developer community about working with wireless carriers - everything from getting their phone calls or emails returned to getting latitude and longitude for their applications was causing friction. Sadly, this sense of frustration has only increased. When Robert Gourdine, moderator of one of the NAVTEQ developer sessions, asked the audience: "How many of you are developers?" at least 100 people raised their hands. When he asked "How many of you feel you have 'cracked the code' about working with carriers?" not one hand was raised. I spoke with developer after developer at the conference and found this sense of frustration confirmed again and again. If carriers didn't "get it" about how difficult they are to work with before, hopefully they get the message now.

Some companies are not waiting for carriers to "get it." Instead they are actively looking for ways around the carriers to get location information. This includes taking advantage of the growing awareness and market penetration of Wi-Fi enabled phones, by using Wi-Fi based location determination solutions from companies like Skyhook Wireless. Others are using the mobile station (MS) resident GPS capabilities of Sprint Nextel and Verizon phones. These can get location information using just the "traditional" GPS capability in the phone, without the need for a network-assist, and thus not needing the carriers' permission/agreement for the location information. However, this approach radically changes the business model since companies cannot rely on being on the carrier "deck" to generate sales. There were even rumblings of new location-determination technologies being developed outside of the carrier networks that will appear in 2007.

LBS privacy concerns continue to be a major topic at the NAVTEQ conference and during the breakouts. Everyone from the carriers to startups cited the importance of ensuring customer privacy, AND were not just talking, but demonstrating commitment. Verizon Wireless's representative said that satisfying privacy criteria was a very specific and critically important part of how it evaluated and approved potential LBS applications. This is part of a very comprehensive and difficult process.

There's no question that the LBS developer community is getting more attention from the major players in the LBS space, including NAVTEQ, Tele Atlas, Nokia, venture capitalists and the carriers themselves. These companies view the LBS developer community as a critical part of the LBS ecosystem and were actively courting it - more good news!

Published Thursday, September 28th, 2006

Written by David H. Williams

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