What’s holding LBS back?


LBS developers are definitely in demand. And with a host of applications waiting in the wings to help the LBS industry realise its potential, we have to ask: What's holding it back?

Osman Iqbal: Analysts are forecasting big things for LBS, but what's the reality for the next few years?

Calvin Hutt: User-generated content will be big, but trusted / branded content is critically important. Providing directory listings of POI data is one thing, but consumers will only come back if they know the results are trusted and relevant.

With GPS modules becoming cheaper than camera modules, mobile phones are certainly going to be out there. It remains to be seen whether the services can be sold to the consumer.

OI: What LBS applications do you believe will penetrate the mass market?

CH: While the mobile phone and PND are essentially tools, they're also entertainment devices. Successful mass-market applications and services are also likely to be tools. The mobile phone is an attractive platform to game developers due to the huge installed user-base, so this will be an interesting space to watch.

In terms of consumers out and about with PNDs or GPS-enabled phones, we believe that local search is going to be the killer app on such devices.

OI: What must the mobile operator do to push mobile LBS to that next level?

CH: The networks could provide low-cost monthly data packages and low-cost international roaming by default. Consumers avoid such services if they think their bill is going to hit the roof.

Cell ID is another key area. There are no international roaming agreements in place, even within the same network operators, and it's expensive to carry out a cell-ID lookup for us. This could be made freely available to consumers as part of the monthly tariff.

OI: What are the challenges in delivering and managing dynamic content and POIs?

CH: Many services and devices are based on storing data locally. The only way to have true dynamic content is through an open wireless connection to an Internet server. Unless done cheaply and simply, it's a major barrier for the user.

OI: How can you overcome the challenges associated with UGC and managing the data?

CH: By designing user interfaces for applications that specifically target small-screen devices.

In terms of content, with so many users, regulating is going to be very difficult.

OI: Are there certain partnerships that need to be established to ensure that location applications take off?

CH: Promotion through the distribution channels is key – not getting buried on portals or within devices.

And consumer awareness. A lot of trust has been lost between the consumer and the network operators over the last few years. People are scared of hidden or recurring charges.

OI: Is consumer awareness a major hurdle?

CH: Yes. Designing useful services that are simple and intuitive is one thing, but getting it into the hands of the consumer is another issue.

Many people only explore a fraction of their phone's capability. Does this mean that phone-based systems are only there for the curious and technically minded? Perhaps this is the beauty of the in-car sat nav – it does what it says on the tin.

OI: Are Cell ID and Wi-Fi positioning legitimate alternatives to GPS? Can a hybrid solution be created?

CH: We need X.Y co-ordinates. If we plug in a "location module" to our service, I'm not concerned with how those X.Y co-ordinates are derived. I imagine future devices will mix and match depending on circumstances.

They're all competitors, and none is infallible.

Cell-ID works perfectly for nearme – the density of cells perfectly mirrors the density of population, and naturally the density of POIs perfectly mirrors the density of population. The drawback with Cell-ID alone is the lack of turn-by-turn directions.

OI: The European Galileo project recently got the green light and the second satellite was launched. What does this mean for mobile location application developers?

CH: Two down, 30 to go! It would be reassuring to know that there are international alternatives, but the continued investment in building and deploying further satellites is unbelievably expensive and open-ended. There appear to be numerous competing projects – why not have one single international solution?

CalvinHutt is the managing director of Oxford Softworks, developer and publisher of LBS within the wireless content space.

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