Perspectives on the LBS Ecosystem - Notes and Observations from SiRF’s Location 2.0 Summit

By Joe Francica

SiRF Technology convened a conference to address the "ecosystem" for location-based services (LBS). SiRF's Location 2.0 Summit, held on October 23rd at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco, drew approximately 300 stakeholders representing carriers, application developers, content providers and device manufacturers. Kanwar Chadha, founder of SiRF, envisioned and created the event and Andrew Seybold, a wireless technology analyst and consultant, hosted it. The conference was structured to allow each constituency an opportunity to voice its opinions of the current situation and detail requirements for increased adoption of LBS applications.

Chadha immediately challenged the audience by addressing the notion of "the killer app." "The point is," he said, "there is not a killer application. Location is an enabler for almost every application. I think people understand that location is going to be part of almost everything mobile." Seybold offered a few prognostications. "LBS is going to be very, very important as we move forward." Referring to the growing list of mobile applications, from local search to instant messaging, Seybold said, "We're going to go back and embed LBS technology in every thing there is." Though obviously bullish on LBS, Chadha cautioned that users still face a complex interface. "How do we make the user experience a 'one-click' experience? We need to get to a level where they don't have to go through levels to get to that information."

Perspectives on a network of location-based content...
Michael Jones, chief technologist for Google Earth, offered a keynote address to focus the audience on the opportunities for LBS. He explained that Google's mission is to geographically organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. "We are not interested in being a big map company. Our job is all about context. The real power of the Web isn't the link. It's the implicit link between information." Jones also shared his insights into how Google Earth will be the platform for distributing hyper-local information, what he called "super knowledge." It might be, for example, a two-block area that could be captured by many users. "You really know that place. Billions of people have that knowledge and now they are connected. That's doable now and you couldn't do it without location-based technology."

Perspectives from the cellular carriers...
Seybold moderated a panel including Verizon's Dale Beasley, Orange's Raphael Goumot, and NTT DoCoMo's Masaaki Maeda. Beasley immediately offered Verizon's strategy, saying that "LBS will be part of everything we do from here on out. LBS for pictures,'s here for good." Verizon has included GPS chipsets on all its phones since the beginning of 2006 and it feels it has a clear advantage over the competition which will allow the company to roll out a number of LBS initiatives.

On why application developers are frustrated...
Carriers have been the bottleneck to application development and have frustrated software developer initiatives. Without clear-cut business models for their applications, carriers have shut the door on many location-aware services. "Patience is a virtue," said Beasley, trying to appease some software developers in the audience. Verizon and Orange have portals that allow developers to register their applications so that the carrier can review the business case to determine whether the application is viable before inviting them for further discussions.

On why LBS applications have not grown...
Verizon's Beasley said, "It's an awareness problem." Verizon has heavily promoted the company's VZNavigator applications and feels they are an easy sell to consumers. "This application just plain works." Orange's Goumot was much more cautious and noted that there were issues with accuracy and the interface. "Usability is a key issue. It's not very interactive," he said. Orange is working more on mobile TV than on LBS. "The value proposition is clearer. LBS is more complex," he said, citing also the problems with personal security. Orange feels the company must try something simple at first and test it to see if it attracts more services. Seybold immediately admonished Goumot, telling him that he, Seybold, predicts Orange will make more money from LBS than it will from mobile TV over the next five years.

Perspectives about the Third Screen - Device Manufacturers...
Clint Wheelock, chief research officer of ABI Research, moderated a session of the device manufacturers that will become increasingly influential in how the carriers roll out LBS applications. Dr. Muzibul Khan of Samsung, Bill Maggs of Motorola, Jeff McDowell of RIM, Samuel Wang of Mio Technology and Olavi Toivainen of Nokia all took part in the discussion. Wheelock began the discussion by noting that ABI estimates that there were 12 million subscribers to LBS applications in 2006 and that number will grow to over 300 million in 2012, or about 9% of the total number of worldwide wireless subscribers.

On the current market situation...
Samsung's Khan said that there will be a lot more phones with a lot more capabilities. Samsung sells phones and portable navigation devices (PNDs), so no matter what, Samsung stands to benefit. "The phone has a lot of potential. You can do things [with the phone] that you cannot do with some of the other devices," said Khan.

Motorola's Maggs believes that the industry hasn't figured out how to introduce killer apps. "We will have a significant announcement with SiRF...coming shortly. We're putting products out in the marketplace and also working with customers...We're not buying NAVTEQ or doing things like that," said Maggs.

McDowell of RIM, as might be expected, said that email was the first killer app. He thinks that LBS will be the second killer app for RIM. "The thing that excites me most is to integrate that into applications like CRM," said McDowell.

Nokia's Toivainen said, "We are interested in Internet services and that is the agenda that we have been interested in for a while. The key is not just the handset base but how we improve the content of location and improve the application platforms, APIs and so forth. . .and in terms of the user interaction."

Mio's Wang believes the business model is pretty simple for PNDs: Bring navigation down in price and add real time traffic. "When people travel, navigation becomes pretty important to them," he said.

...On the other types of services or devices that are expected in the market...
McDowell said that any type of service that asks you to tell it where you are will go away. He believes this is an unnecessary step that complicates the user experience and hinders the ability to do location-based advertising. He cautioned, "Don't make me put in the address of where I am. When you have a mobile device...I need to get that information quickly...whatever information is free, like lat/long, just use it and serve me up a map (and that) will dictate how much that application will be used."

...On what LBS applications mean for device requirements...
Khan said that in the mobile handset market devices are constrained by size and power. So for any application to be adopted, it has to be easy to use. In general, the industry can come up with any number of LBS applications but some would be too complicated for the end user. Other limitations he cited were getting enough memory and a bigger screen. "We need to make it so simple that the user will use it," said Khan.

Perspectives about LBS and the Convergence of media and devices...
David Gill of Nielsen Mobile (formerly Telephia), a market research company, moderated a panel consisting of Darren Koenig of Tele Atlas, Jon Spinney of Openwave, Robert Gourdine of NAVTEQ, Randy Franz of ESRI and Tom Yin of IBM.

Yin said that IBM, though not a location technology provider, is working behind the scenes by investing heavily in hardware platforms that allow carriers to design network elements. Gourdine sees PNDs as the hottest category, one in which over ten million devices will be shipped this year. "Dedicated devices provide a certain type of value. With the phone, you always have it with you. NAVTEQ sees both but one will not wipe out the other," he said.

Spinney had perhaps the most interesting comment: "We're all talking about the Web...the geoweb, the social Web. I'm quite happy with just ‘the Web.' And the Web should be no different on my phone than it is on my PC, than it is on my TV, in the future."

Perspectives from Application Developers
Moderated by Mukund Ghangurde of Microsoft, this panel focused on some of the "pain points" that arise when software developers try to introduce new applications to the carriers. Magnus Nilsson of Wayfinder said, "Everybody is looking for the killer app. . .we talk to carriers and we talk about navigation and they say we've got ten other people pushing that to us, but they haven't adopted it yet." Malte Schleon, co-founder of locr, a location-based photo organizer, noted the difficulty in working on multiple software development platforms to support each carrier's preferred interface. "All these platforms have different user interfaces and it takes a lot of time to get used to these different interfaces," he said. Eric Carr, vice president of technology for loopt, a mobile social mapping company, said, "From a developer perspective, privacy is a concern. . .and the cost of location is ten times more than what we would like it to be."

In summary
In closing the event, Chadha summarized the major issues facing the "LBS ecosystem." "(On the) major issues...some, SiRF can do something about..some, the operators need to do something about...and some, the media should watch and keep a score card," said Chadha. He proceeded to list five major challenges:
  • Model: An open model where users control the content but allow the carriers to control the access
  • Privacy: User's control cannot be comprised.
  • Convergence vs. dedicated platform: Users still want the one-click vs. three-click experience. If you are looking for music, iTunes gives you a one-click experience; the PND gives you a one-click experience. From a phone, it is still a multiple click experience.
  • Awareness: People are not aware of LBS. Interoperability is something the industry has to do something about.
  • Reliable location: Obtaining a position needs to be available anywhere, including places like urban canyons. A simplified location platform is needed, as opposed to just a GPS platform, a Wi-Fi platform, a cell (site) platform. Chadha said that SiRF is committed to that because that is the business they are in.

Published Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Written by Joe Francica

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