Privacy, Emergency Notification and Wireless Carriers: Location Beyond Check-ins #ctiaw2011

CTIA Wireless hosted a session entitle "Location: Beyond Check-ins and Directions" in an attempt to move the discussion among the wireless community to look at more than the exploding interest in applications like Facebook Places, Foursquare and others. Clearly this pitted the carrier's camp vs. the app developers. As such, there were no location-based application developers on the panel. But it was surprising to hear that  the carriers now think location is a only now a profit opportunity.  Rip Gerber, CEO of LOC-AID noted the growth of LBS from the carriers perspective was a recent phenomenon. "The carriers weren't ready until it became important enough to do [LBS] and that happened just last year," said Gerber.

I found this to be odd because the app developers are striding to expand their products beyond location-based gaming and are moving into local search and integrating their apps to help retailers and consumer find products and promotions and conduct transactions. It makes the carriers look late to the game and the potential profits.

But while the conversation started by looking at the market opportunities for carriers and LBS apps, it drifted to privacy issues. Here's a recap of some remarks by panelists:

  • Gerber: Privacy is not stopping the industry but "I want to be in control of my privacy."

  • Joe Hannan, Group VP for TeleCommunication Systems (TCS), the company that provides technology for Verizon's family locator product that is used for tracking children said that  parents want to control who gets access to that information. "That's where the carrier offers differentiation because they have the means to properly handle privacy information." He noted that app providers are only doing reverse engineering  to locate cell towers.

  • Chris Peralta of Nokia's North American Location business said, "We all need to be advocates of privacy." He felt that consumers need to be aware of 'what did I just click' and felt that there is an education awareness that must occur and that consumers must have responsibility for some aspects of their privacy.

  • Kristi Crum, Dir. Consumer Solutions for VerizonWireless said that , " we need to educate consumers on the types of apps and provide transparency on what is being utilized on each consumer's phone."

I asked FEMA's Wade Witmer, the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Deputy Director about the status of the WARN Act's implementation. Witmer said that FEMA has made excellent strides in developing the alerts that will get passed to the carrier about emergency information. Witmer said that carriers are required to take information from FEMA with the geographic location and broadcast by the tower location within the affected area. However, at this time, the alert will go to on a county level only but has the potential to go to the cell tower's geographic region. FEMA's  Commerical Mobile Alert System (CMAS) is provided to the carriers and each may broadcast the alert. The CMAS alert consists of the ability to send 90-character geographically, targeted text messages to the public regarding presidential emergency alert messages, AMBER Alerts, and emergency alerts and warnings of imminent threats to life and property, such as natural and manmade disasters, according to FEMA. However not all carriers are have implemented the means to broadcast CMAS which they are not required to do before Q1 2012. Carriers will be allowed to broadcast alerts and consumers will opt-in to receive the alerts. But only a few pilot projects exist to date.

After the conversation about privacy, the issue of how to monetize applications offered by the carriers was discussed. Again, here's a recap of opinions:

  • Gerber: Location is enabling a whole bunch of other things; Foursquare is enabling local search…not just location as an end. Not a lot of location-based companies popping up; there's something like 130 location-based companies today but in a few years you'll see about three."

  • Crum from VerizonWireless: Navigation [applications] exists for continued monetization. There's a free model and a premium model. There's more choice and control for consumers; Verizon is excited about competitors in this space and the innovation. All kinds of [business] models are emerging but many will require scale to work.

  • Nokia's Peralta: "Nokia must provide compelling experiences that the consumer must embrace." With regard to location being an enabling technology, Peralta also said that the trend is applying location toward mobile advertising and search with display ads being inserted within these searches. "It's definitely moving fast."

  • VerizonWireless' Crum said that her company will provide APIs for innovations that will enhance consumer's lives. "When we make consumer's lives become better, then that's what consumer's will pay us for." Crum believes that people will pay for time savers and security.

But it's fair to ask the question of "Why would app developers come to carriers? Crum from VerizonWireless said they would do that to obtain the network location. Gerber clarified this statement by saying, "They need network location because you can spoof the GPS location on your device. You will pay the carrier certified network location."

Hannan from TCS said, "There is a reason to go to the carrier; the cost to develop an app using an API from a carrier is lower because the app will work across all of the carrier's mobile devices. The economics alone will drive you to a carrier solution because it brings the developer a wider addressable market for their product."

And so ended the panel. It seems privacy is still a concern. And it appears carriers are playing catch up but not too concerned that they are late in providing their APIs to developers. Open the API's and they will come? Maybe that's all it will take.

Published Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Written by Joe Francica

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