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Carriers are Back in LBS Space

01 November 2010

Most wireless carriers have opened their location APIs to third-party Location Based Services (LBS) platform providers, but others still restrict location access. At this year’s CTIA, market research ?rm iSuppli Corp. clearly saw efforts from carriers to stay more relevant and competent in the smart phone OS vendor-leading open application development ecosystem, and even to own an end-to-end LBS platform.

To be sure, a lot of carrier-branded navigation, family locator-type of geo-fencing, and real-time user location tracking services is available in the consumer space and fleet/workforce management LBS in the enterprise space. However, over the past two years, carriers had to make way for smart phone OS and handset vendors hosting LBS vendors, whose platforms provide developers with easier venues to create and distribute their apps.

Instead of using expensive network-centric location calls, such app vendors can utilize device-centric user location calls provided by Google, Skyhook Wireless and other commercial positioning database aggregators, embedded in smart phone location APIs. The third-party app developer writes apps on such device-centric location APIs and then markets the apps through smart phone application storefronts, entailing less distribution costs and providing easier exposure to end users.

Carriers’ Plans
Just before CTIA at the Verizon Developer Conference (VDC), Verizon Wireless opened 20 APIs to third-party developers. Amongst the newly available APIs are Location APIs, which will allow developers to create applications for a wide variety of Verizon handsets.

Location information is available on two levels. The first provides user location information with a one- to two-mile radius. This type of course location is available for any Verizon Wireless handset. The second type of positioning information is only available on some handsets and provides more granular information. In both cases, users have to opt-in for applications to be able to request any type of location information. Location Labs was one of the few third parties allowed to work with Verizon Wireless’ Location APIs before this general availability.

Sprint has also opened its carrier location API to any third-party developer on Sprint phones. But the carrier also has worked with multiple third-party location aggregator/service enablers such as Location Labs, allowing it to scale quickly and bring on board more developers. And while not in the mapping business, Sprint has partnerships with the likes of Navteq and TeleAtlas, with Sprint recommending the providers to the developer. Even in Sprint-branded services, the carrier allows its partners to pick the best content sources and doesn’t get into the middleware.

Just before CTIA, Nokia also hosted its Nokia World 2010 in September. Nokia continued to tout its latest stats from Ovi services at CTIA, and iSuppli believes that the Ovi Maps performance and new features integrated with other Ovi products are proving very compelling.

In particular, iSuppli has been paying attention to Nokia’s Ovi LBS platform business, especially since Nokia announced a partnership with AT&T on app development. Nokia is trying to reverse its fortunes in North America by launching a $10 million developer competition in partnership with AT&T. The competition will be judged by Nokia and AT&T, with download counts also being part of the equation. With the competition, Nokia aims to jumpstart its North American business, which has not kept up with other international markets. Partnering with AT&T for this competition is a natural choice because AT&T was also the first U.S. carrier to provide integrated carrier billing for Nokia’s Ovi Store.

LBS StrategiesLBS Strategies

Android Rollout
From four handset makers, 12 Android models in total were launched at CTIA, which is an all-time high. In addition, Samsung touted that 5 million units of its Galaxy S series have been sold; the series has expanded carrier partnerships in two months to a total of six carriers in the United States.

Meanwhile, Sprint Android phones now include a carrier-customized UI layer called Sprint ID. Sprint ID allows newly announced Android phone users to quickly download ID packs that deliver a predefined experience, including applications, widgets, ringtones and wallpapers. This is another example of carrier efforts to stay relevant in the smart phone application ecosystem.

As Android devices flourish, common belief has held that the volume of free Google TbT navi will increase exponentially. iSuppli estimates that nearly 50 million Android smart phones will be sold in 2010 and that about 15 million users will take advantage of the free navigation service, with the United States accounting for most of the users.

However, iSuppli has noticed that many Android handset makers are actually trying to avoid Google’s control in location content by not preloading Google Maps, as doing so gives away user positioning information that would let Google build its own location content.

Find Out More > Location-Aware Portable Devices

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