Location-based services market ready for takeoff

Published: 
10 February 2010

Could connected mobile and vehicle satellite navigation services become the next killer applications on the market?

TConference moderator Jonathan Raper © Ahmed ElAminConference moderator Jonathan Raper © Ahmed ElAmin

Entrepreneurs, start ups and the big companies vying for a chunk of the fledging market think so. Those attending the Navigation & Location Europe conference this month said the firmament of various software, hardware, services and business models currently being rolled out to consumers is close to reaching the critical mass necessary for the market to take off.

The talk was of always-on connected satellite-enabled navigation, whether it be via PDA, smart mobile phone or other personal devices. These devices would either all be interlinked or would merge into a single portable device. Wireless connections would be made via the mobile telecommunications network, or via Wi-Fi.

Location-based technologies and services embedded in vehicle telematics, personal navigation devices and mobile phones are appearing in the marketplace, along with the software and services necessary to gain consumer acceptance. Jonathan Raper, a professor of geographic information science at London’s City University and conference moderator, says this year could mark a take-off point for the market.

“How we map and provide data enhancements will enable navigation and location-based products to push the boundaries in 2009,” he said in an interview.

Key role for EGNOS in LBS market

Europe’s EGNOS – and later on Galileo – will play a key role in the development of the market by providing the kind of accuracy and reliability necessary for the types of location-based services (LBS) being rolled out in the market or created in the IT labs of today, he says. Such precision, to within one metre, will be needed for services such as pedestrian applications, locating nearby friends or mobile social networking.

Europe’s EGNOS, which is now operational, improves the accuracy of the US’ GPS satellite navigation signals down to about one metre. In addition, EGNOS provides verification of the system’s integrity, a feature necessary to meet the demands of safety-critical applications in sectors such as aviation, maritime and emergency services. EGNOS is the precursor to Galileo, a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) in the process of being developed by Europe.

Raper, who is editor of the Journal of Location-Based Services and chief executive of Placr Ltd, is at the forefront of developing satellite navigation services using EGNOS. Placr, a startup, is part of a consortium that successfully applied for a research grant under the EU’s Framework Programme.

The MetaPos project proposes to develop software to determine the quality of positioning data obtained through satellite, mobile or Wi-Fi networks and gather feedback from users. The software will use augmentation data from EGNOS’ correction signals. The project will offer a paid-for service on top of a free component, and will have guarantees on availability, access to online positioning augmentation and user quality ratings.
“Galileo and EGNOS are deeply needed by all LBS that are critical positioning applications,” Raper said. “There is also the safety aspect. GPS by itself is still not accurate enough, especially in a city environment.”

Rollout of services underway

The commercial work is underway to bring location-based services to consumers. Already, some smart phones are appearing on the market with satellite navigation capabilities built into the hardware and software. Firms such as Navteq and Tele Atlas are creating the detailed maps required for pedestrian navigation. Cellular network providers such as Vodafone and IT developers are developing the services and applications for consumers to fully exploit satellite navigation capabilities.

For example, Nokia recently announced it would launch a new series of GPS-enabled cell phones on the European market. The phones will work in conjunction with Navteq’s new pedestrian city map service. Navteq, a Nokia subsidiary, announced the launch of the new mapping service in June 2009.

Meanwhile mobile operators such as Vodafone hope to leverage their networks and huge customer bases to make cell phones the platform of choice for LBS. Vodafone is building an online applications store similar to the one Apple created for the iPhone and iPod. Developers will be able to contribute satellite navigation software for Vodafone’s mobile network and sell them directly to customers.

“LBS will play a key role in enhancing the customer’s mobile internet experience, making it more personal and relevant to their lives,” says Fabrizio De Liberali, Vodafone’s senior product manager. “We will deliver a range of services that use location to contextualise the user’s experience and improve ease of use. Productivity tools and applications using LBS will improve enterprise efficiency and make the working environment safer, including for those working in the field.”

Social networking in the LBS market

Many companies in the market believe that social networking services will come to dominate the LBS market. UK companies Rummble and Open Street Map depend on a network of GNSS-equipped mobile users to update their maps in real time, reflecting changes on the ground. Tele Atlas has launched a similar service to capture user-generated map content. Both companies report users are making thousands and sometimes millions of inputs a day to correct map data, indicating that people are keen to have precise maps that are rich in features. Other providers are creating applications for mobile-to-mobile social networking, allowing users to find each other in a city.

Another market segment ripe for takeoff is the integration of satellite navigation services with vehicle telematics. EADIS, an EU-supported telematics project, presented a workshop at the conference to promote its online design forum for such integration.

Nick Hull, an EADIS project manager, said industry needs to incorporate EGNOS and Galileo into their designs. More information about the advantages Galileo will have over GPS is needed, he says.

Willy Maes, head of section in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy and Transport and a speaker at the conference, said telematics providing dynamic and intelligent rerouting using GNSS will become a necessary feature in vehicles. He noted that the Commission will present a proposal for a directive on a common telematics specification for Europe so vehicles will be able to access traffic information across borders.

“EGNOS and Galileo are vital to intelligent transport systems and the commercial development of LBS in Europe,” he said in an interview. “If you need location precision for LBS services then you need EGNOS. The next step will be Galileo, which will have better availability with more satellites in the sky. Such precision is necessary for such tasks as the tracking of live animals or dangerous goods during transport, or for road tolling systems that use satellite navigation.”

Support provided to market

Mobile LBS services and transport are two of the areas targeted by the GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA) in promoting EGNOS and Galileo for commercial market development. In addition, grants for research and development into satellite navigation services using EGNOS and Galileo are provided through the Commission’s Framework Programmes (FP). For example, the first GNSS call for proposals under FP7 targeted applications for GNSS-based road services with a focus on road-user charging and value-added services. It also targeted GNSS-based mobile location-based services applications. In the second call the emphasis is on safety and fleet management in the road sector and on social applications in the domain of mobile LBS. In addition, the GSA’s special topic prize for the Galileo Masters competition promotes the commercial development of EGNOS-enabled applications.

Conference participants also noted that the EU will need to clarify legislation on data protection and the use of location data to provide industry with guidance. Many said EU legislation requiring the lowering of mobile phone roaming charges in Europe will help foster the take-up of LBS by consumers.

All of these developments will provide the consumer with new services they can use on a daily basis said Frank Pauli, a Navteq vice president. He outlined a scenario of a business man travelling from Berlin to Frankfurt for a conference and using interlinked satellite navigation communications between a desktop computer, a mobile phone and his car. He is able to plan his route, adapt it on-the-fly as weather and traffic conditions change, and locate restaurants and other delegates on arrival.

“This is not science fiction – this is reality by 2010,” Pauli said.

The Navigation & Location Europe conference was held 10-11 June in Amsterdam, Holland, and attracted about 100 participants in the LBS market. Market analyst Berg Insight forecasts that the LBS market in Europe will grow from 20 million users in 2008 at a compound annual growth rate of about 37% to reach 130 million in 2014. Berg estimates that about 20% of the mobile handsets shipped in 2009 will feature GNSS capability. More than 50% of handsets in Europe will be GNSS-enabled by 2013.

Media note: This feature can be republished without charge provided the GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA) is acknowledged as the source at the top or the bottom of the story. You must request permission before you use any of the photographs on the site. If you do republish, we would be grateful if you could link back to the GSA Web site (http://www.gsa.europa.eu).

More information:

EGNOS
FP7 First Call – winning proposals
FP7 Second Call
FP7 information
European Satellite Navigation Competition 2009 website

Updated: Sep 08, 2014