Bangalore: In 2006, when state-run telecom operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) first launched location-based services on mobile phones in India, rivals Tata Teleservices (Maharashtra) Ltd, Vodafone Essar Ltd and Reliance Communications Ltd soon followed with their versions.
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In a country of a million labyrinthine networks of lanes, this provides cellphone users traffic updates and turn-by-turn directions, helps find the nearest automated teller machines (ATMs) and allows for location-based advertising.
Three years on, location-based services (LBS), based on the global positioning system (GPS) technology, has attracted some enterprises but few individuals, hampered primarily by inaccuracies in map data and low penetration of mobile devices that can use general packet radio service (GPRS), which is used to access the Internet. LBS as a value-added service generates $1 billion (Rs4,830 crore) in revenue for telecom operators in the US, says Rohan Verma, co-founder of New Delhi-based CE Info Systems (P) Ltd that provides digital maps, location-based services and GPS navigation under its MapmyIndia brand.
He does not have projections for India but estimates that the enterprise LBS market in India is a “massive opportunity” worth at least tens of millions of dollars.
The graph lists out the most popular mobile services. Paras Jain / Mint
CE Info Systems, for instance, has some 500 clients including Coca-Cola Co.’s India unit and Hindustan Unilever Ltd for its corporate location-based services. Firms can use the service to track merchandise and even their sales staff for a monthly fee, in addition to data usage charges. Individual users typically pay less than Rs100 a month for LBS and GPRS charges.
Tata Teleservices, which aims to deploy 250,000-500,000 LBS units in 2009-10, counts commercial cargo and courier firms as well as state transport bodies as clients for the service.
In April, the firm upgraded its LBS application to assisted GPS technology, a combination of information from cellular base stations and satellite-based GPS, allowing for faster and more accurate mapping.
Still, “consumer growth has been challenging primarily because the location services have been primarily available on mid- to high-end devices,” says Pradeep Dwivedi, senior vice-president, marketing and product management, Tata Teleservices, referring to GPRS-enabled cellphones. He declined to put a number to the firm’s corporate and individual LBS customers.
Says Naveen Menon, co-founder of telecom research firm Vital Analytics: “In our (April) survey, when we asked the question ‘what value-add service would you like?’ LBS ranked very low.” It had a recall rate of less than 0.5% among some 5,900 respondents across urban India.
Besides, there are free maps available for mobile phones.
Tanmoy Saha, 32, downloaded Google Inc.’s mobile version of google maps on his BlackBerry in October and uses it occasionally. But he cannot rely on it alone; he uses it to start with but checks with people to be sure.
Spatial information: Gokul Janga of Mapunity, which has set up a transport information website, gets 50,000-60,000 hits every month but only a few hundred users have downloaded its mobile application. Hemant Mishra / Mint
“Often there are no signboards to confirm if I’m on the right street or not,” says Saha, an information technology consultant. He is not aware if his operator offers LBS.
“Google maps is just a travel guide,” says Satish Sharma, general manager, mobile operation, BSNL. “LBS is not just a map service but there are a number of services.”
Sharma is referring to services such as the friend finder (to find all friends within a 2km radius) and ATM and restaurant finder.
Low LBS adoption in India is also blamed on a lack of publicly available, standardized spacial information unlike in the US.
“The road I take every day to office is suddenly dug up. A public body would have to coordinate for such information to be on LBS,” says Gokul Janga, co-founder and a director at Bangalore-based Mapunity Information Services Pvt. Ltd.
Mapunity, in collaboration with Bangalore’s traffic authorities, has set up a Bangalore transport information system, a website to help citizens find their way around the city. The website gets 50,000-60,000 hits every month but only a few hundred users have downloaded its mobile application, says Janga.