Location based services have been the holy grail in mobile for at least half a decade now and I wonder what hasn’t been proposed to mobile operators over the past years from standardized Mobile Location Centers to A-GPS assistance their network could supply to mobile devices? Yet, they haven’t been able to figure out what to do with it, or more precisely how to monetize it, except for a applications such as location based pricing of voice calls, which do not require interaction with any equipment outside their own network.
When looking at current high end mobile devices from Nokia and others on the market, they all include GPS chips now and thus no longer require network operators for acquiring location information for them. The current generation of GPS chips require about 20 seconds to get a first position fix which is already good enough for many applications. With a server in the Internet that supplies the location of all GPS satellites to the GPS chip, this time is reduced to around 5 seconds, which is almost instantaneous from a user perspective. The only piece in the value chain the mobile operator is thus still required for is to connect the device to the server on the Internet.
According to a Sirf representative at the recent Mobile World Congress, the mobile only requests satellite position information from the network without sending any information such as a cell-id that could give away the approximate location of the device. Further according to Sirf, network based A-GPS assistance that sends satellite position information to a device could speed up the process to reach first time to fix times of less than a second. However, I think it is unlikely that mobile network operators will ever do this and a delay of around 5 seconds is short enough for a good user experience anyway.
So the room to maneuver for mobile operators in the location domain is getting small these days. But would it have made a difference if they’ve had another 5 years of time to work on this topic? Outside players on the other hand already put the emerging GPS capabilities to good use. Nokia Maps, Google Maps, etc. etc. have come from nowhere in the past 12 months and now offer positioning, car and pedestrian navigation, recommendation, finding point of interests, city guides, location dependent search, etc. etc.
Another holy grail, location based mobile advertising, however, is still a niche that offers lots of opportunities for network operators as network based location information is an important key. A company active in this space is Seekerwireless, and I leave you with a link to their site to explore further.