Where was Location at CTIA Wireless I.T.& Internet 2002?

By Jim VanderMeer

Las Vegas, NV -- October 16 -18, 2002 -- Viva Las Vegas! - There's nothing like attending a wireless trade show in Vegas  -- the bleeding edge technology, the crowds, the suffocating advertisement, the tchotchkes!  At least, that was what I was expecting until I walked into the Sands EXPO and Convention Center last Wednesday.  Instead, the technology was a re-run of last Spring's show, the usual techno-crowd was missing, the convention center and surrounding areas were void of advertisements, and I left with just a key chain and some breath mints!  Also missing from CTIA this Fall was the abundance of location technology.  The location-based services and location-determining technology buzz of 2001 made a weak showing at CTIA.  Instead, gaming and entertainment were the talk of town.

In conjunction with CTIA, the Wireless Developer Forum (www.wirelessdevnet.com) held a special interest seminar focused on issues confronting today's mobile software developers.  My colleague attended a session entitled "Fast Lane to Location-Based Applications for Wireless," one of the many victims of low attendance, with only a half-dozen individuals in the crowd.

Is it Location-Based Services (LBS) or wireless in general that is in a slump?  I would have to say that the wireless industry in general is feeling the pain of a down economy.  LBS is facing challenges at the hands of the wireless carriers, but is alive and well as a cottage industry.  Three particular areas related to LBS continue to have a presence at CTIA (even though there are fewer participants) in these slow economic times:

Personal Tracking:  Despite high hopes for E9-1-1 capabilities, location-aware cell phones and personal tracking devices are still in development.  At CTIA, however, Wherify (www.wherify.com) was showcasing their GPS Personal Locator wristwatch for children.  This device utilizes GPS and pager technology to allow parents or guardians to track their children's location via Internet or phone.  The device is available at $399 plus a monthly service charge ranging from $24.95 to $34.95.  A Wherify spokesperson claimed that product was shipping at the time of the CTIA show.  This device was the only location-specific device to make the CTIA Wireless widget showcase.

Fleet and Asset Tracking:  Commercial applicability for location-determining technology (LDT) and location-specific applications and services continues to gain ground.  Product and service offerings in this area are speaking more to the economic savings they can provide to a fleet manager, in particular, the cost savings of knowing where fleet resources are located and being able to better manage those resources to reduce overall operating cost.  Again, location and LDT are content enablers for the fleet applications.  With their RentalTrack, EquipmentTrack, eTrailer Track product offerings, Aircept (www.aircept.com) is one example of the many fleet-centric providers touting their wares at CTIA.  Aircept positions the benefits of its tracking solutions as a way to lower recovery and operational costs for fleet providers -- a very compelling message in these times of reduced IT spending.

Location Services Application Providers:  This group of exhibitors is stilling pressing hard -- in particular for sales to the wireless carriers who seem to be one of the last remaining paying customers around.  The Autodesk Location Services (locationservices.autodesk.com) division of software provider Autodesk was demonstrating the unique features of their LocationLogic platform.  Tele Atlas (www.teleatlas.com), on the other hand, was championing their improved maps and geographical databases.  Both Autodesk and Tele Atlas efforts were geared towards the wireless carriers and the companies that service the wireless carriers.  One spokesperson for Autodesk indicated that many carriers in North America are moving ahead with their location services plans, and have even begun evaluating technology platforms.

From a wireless location technology perspective, was CTIA of value?  I didn't learn much more than what I've gleaned from the Internet, but when it comes to getting a first-hand look at specific vendor's technologies and products (without the pressure of having to buy) a trade show beats the Internet any day - even if it's a partly gloomy day in Las Vegas.

Jim VanderMeer is a product director at Airbiquity Inc.  Airbiquity is a location technology company that delivers global positioning system (GPS) data to any wireless network worldwide.  The company's patented aqLink™ software enables wireless carriers, automobile manufacturers, commercial call centers and Internet portals to offer their subscribers location-based services that enhance productivity, manage assets, and deliver personalized content.

Published Wednesday, October 23rd, 2002

Written by Jim VanderMeer

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