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CTIA Wireless 2009 | TCS Interview - Dynamic Location Based Services

tcs-ctia Pocket GPS is currently attending the international CTIA Wireless 2009 Show, Las Vegas. If you have any connection with the smartphone and location based services (LBS) industries, this is certainly the place to be at the moment.

Despite the economic gloom, market intelligence firm IDC expects the GPS smartphone market to grow 8.9% in 2009 alone and, according to Gartner, the worldwide LBS market will be worth $8 Billion by 2011. Although handset sales will decline generally in 2009, according to research by Informa Telecoms & Media, smartphone sales are predicted to grow by as much as 30 percent. ABI Research say that 550 million GPS handsets are projected to be in use by 2012.

The buzz from the exhibition floor surrounds the increasing interest in LBS, app stores, search and social networking. Social-networking features such as sharing points of interest (POIs) and geo-tagged photos are still experiencing healthy growth and will continue to boost the sector's fortunes.

As usual, the industry is well represented at CTIA and to coincide with the event, PocketGPSWorld.com has interviewed Tim Lorello of TeleCommunication Systems (TCS), one of the biggest LBS industry players at the show. Headquartered in Maryland, NASDAQ quoted TCS has 600 employees servicing government customers, public safety bodies, and carriers. Their revenue for 2008 was US$220,000,000

TCS Tim Lorello Tim is Global Commercial Sales Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at TCS. He has responsibility for the sale, strategic partnerships and distribution channels of the company’s messaging, location, applications and emergency 9-1-1 portfolio of products and services to operators around the world. I asked him about TCS and its relation to current and evolving markets.

Q. Who do you sell your products to/what markets?
A. We use direct sales teams and third parties to extend our sales and marketing reach globally. We currently have location products deployed in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Our target customers are wireless operators around the world who are looking to deploy messaging or location solutions to support their commercial and enterprise customers.

Q.Will location based services disrupt as many markets as the World Wide Web did?
A. The World Wide Web was all about providing a new communications medium. LBS is different – its about enhancing solutions that already exist and making things possible that would be otherwise quite difficult.

Perhaps a better comparison would be the touch screen. Touch screens have not received the media attention that the Internet has received, but they have changed the way we access information. Instead of typing words or street addresses to enter information, you could simply point to a choice on the screen – simple! And though touch screens have not received the hoopla that the Internet has received, we have seen them gradually become a daily part of everyday existence: kiosks in the mall, our bank ATM and our in-car navigation displays all use touch screens. LBS will be something like that.

Where previously you would have to enter the originating street address, the application will now know your current location and starting address. Instead of selecting a city for traffic information, the traffic information around your current location will be displayed. Instead of calling your friends to see who is in town, you will be able to check your social networking application. And instead of searching for a top five-star restaurant, you will be able to find the nearest five-star restaurant in proximity to you and your friends, and get unique directions for every person starting from the current location. Before we know it, LBS technology, like touch screens, will be embedded in just about everything we do!

Q. How do you see points of interest (POIs) and location based services developing further?
A. Today’s wireless LBS services are focused on Point-Of-Interest look up and navigation solutions. The former often relies upon coarse location information (the nearest cell tower, for example) while navigation solutions require GPS technology. We are big believers in the need for precise location technology in order to make LBS viable. No one would even consider deploying a real-time turn-by-turn navigation solution without precise location (you need to know when to make that next turn, after all).

We believe that even POI services will benefit from precise location – who doesn’t want to see the “You Are Here” dot on a map with points of interests surrounding you? But precise location really needs GPS; and, until recently, you could only get a broad range of GPS handsets from the CDMA operators (Verizon, Alltel, Sprint, and US Cellular being the largest players in the US). Based upon what we saw at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, the GSM world will soon be inundated with GPS handsets. Precise location presents a lot of other possibilities: social networking, fleet management, mobile advertising, family safety, and other solutions for which, according to the surveys, customers have been asking for a few years now.

As time passes, we believe that we will see location technology enhance other applications currently in use: local weather, local traffic, local gaming to name a few examples. Applications will take advantage of the location technology deployed by the carriers, because location is a huge part of mobility and therefore a huge part of the definition of “wireless.”

Q. How do you see the future of advertising developing alongside LBS?
A. We believe that LBS has the potential of breathing new life into the brick-and-mortar retail industry. The American consumer is still a compulsive buyer. Are you in the mood for a good steak? Find the nearest steakhouse. Are you almost out of gas? Find the nearest gas station of your favorite brand. Are you out of cash? Where’s the nearest ATM from your bank? Thus, we see LBS affecting the future of advertising in two distinct ways.

First, it will be used to enhance traditional advertising campaigns. LBS will allow advertising to be targeted. Instead of having to buy national TV or radio air time because you have sales distribution points in the top twenty metropolitan areas, you can use location to target those messages. It can be added to mobile web pages, added to text messaging, and used to broadcast text or multimedia messages to the audiences in those specific geographies.

But we also see a second development tied to LBS-based advertising. Various brands would be able to offer free wireless applications that would help their customers find the nearest retail store. Some of those applications would be downloadable. Others might be accessed via a specific phone call or text messaging short code. And all would use location to identify the location of the subscriber and combine that with the brand of interest in order to steer the customer to the nearest retail site. I love Starbucks. If I could send a text message with the word “Starbucks” to a specific short code, or if I could dial “866-STARBUCks,” my current location could be used to give me text, multimedia, or voice guidance to the nearest Venti White Mocha that will keep me happy.

Q. How does your company address the public's privacy concerns surrounding location based and personal tracking systems?
A. Privacy concerns have probably received more attention than any other issue associated with location technology. We may be compulsive buyers, but we treat our current location as carefully as we would treat our credit card – we don’t give it out to just anyone. TCS has paid a great deal of attention to this topic, and we have addressed this concern via standards and via technology. In particular, we work to build at least three layers of privacy protection into our products: network-based, application-based, and subscriber-based privacy rules. All of these rules try to answer the fundamental question: has the wireless subscriber opted to allow his or her location to be revealed?

Our 9-1-1 service is a great example of network-based privacy rules, and it is an area that TCS pioneered over a decade ago. When someone dials 9-1-1 from a wireless phone, that person is implicitly opting to release their location information to the Public Safety entity that will dispatch emergency assistance. TCS extracts a 9-1-1 caller’s location and delivers it to the nearest Public Safety Answering Point as many as 150,000 times a day (about half of all of the wireless E9-1-1 calls in the US). The assumption is that the caller needs help and is willing to release location information in order to facilitate receiving that help. All 9-1-1 calls release the location information. BUT, that location information is ONLY shared with Public Safety.

Fleet management applications are good examples of “application-based” privacy protection. The Fleet Management Application’s main job is to track the location of the individual vehicle or user. When the user invokes the application or carries the fleet-management-enabled device, the user is implicitly allowing the vehicle to be tracked by a network operator. Once again, that information is only used by the Fleet Management application, and the application is authenticated as being a valid requestor of location information based upon its ID.

Point-of-Interest applications are good examples of “subscriber-based” privacy protection. TCS has worked with Rand McNally to provide Rand McNally StreetFinder® to the marketplace. This user can tell the application to use the person’s current location to rapidly get a zoom-in look at the points-of-interest within a mile of the person’s location. Alternatively, the user can enter his or her location manually. The user decides whether to release his or her location information; and, once again, the location information is used only for the express purpose of show nearby points of interest.

Q. How many years do you think it will be before ALL new mobile devices will carry GPS and LBS technology?
A. A large number of handsets are now coming to market with embedded GPS. Nokia indicated that they expected to ship 12 handset models with AGPS, a total of 35 million handsets, by the end of 2008. Based upon what we saw at Mobile World Congress, we expect that number to grow significantly. ABI research expects that 550M handsets will ship with GPS technology by 2012. I think it is fair to say that within a few years, GPS will be as prevalent as having a camera – but it will be used far more frequently.

TeleCommunication Systems

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