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