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India is setting for location search wars

India is setting for location search wars
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First Published: Wed, May 14 2008. 07 16 AM IST

Yulop.com founder Gundaiah Sridhar
Yulop.com founder Gundaiah Sridhar
Updated: Wed, May 14 2008. 12 32 PM IST
Bangalore: Gundaiah Sridhar, founder of Yulop.com, a Bangalore start-up building a presence around mobile search, thinks he has hit upon the next big thing on the tech frontier.
Mint's National Editor (Corporate) Josey Puliyenthuruthel on location-based searches
It is local search on mobile phones, using a technique called triangulation, and the concept is at least a decade old. But, Yulop, meaning “to come together” in archaic Kannada, is among the first companies in India to be ready with a solution that identifies a customer’s location based on base towers of mobile phone firms and then allows the customer to find shops and restaurants nearby.
Yulop has more than 150,000 business listings in Bangalore, and plans similar listings in six other cities with each address “geo-tagged”, or marked for their longitude and latitude, the geographic coordinates used in mapping, to mark the exact location with an accuracy error of 20m. The solution is based on triangulation, which determines the phone’s location based on signal strength to the three nearest cellphone towers, and relates that with an existing database.
“The listings you find would be (of those establishments) within a 800m (radius) of where you are located,” says Sridhar, the 25-year-old chief executive officer of Yulop Websense Solutions Pvt. Ltd, whose calling card has the firm’s geographic coordinates instead of a street address.
Yulop.com founder Gundaiah Sridhar
Users of Yulop’s service download a software on a mobile phone enabled with the so-called GPRS, or general packet radio service feature, used for accessing Internet on mobile phones, to search free local listings.
Sridhar’s start-up will soon face competition in India from global Internet and phone companies such as Google Inc. and MSN.com, owned by Microsoft Corp., and mobile phone maker Nokia Oyj, that plan similar search services in the country—some using satellite-based global positioning system technology and some mobile phone triangulation.
“They can build maps and networks, but you need local data and that is difficult to build,” says Sridhar, pointing to a differentiator in his service.
Google’s India unit, which has mapped the coordinates of business establishments across the country, by sending an army of people with global positioning system, or GPS, devices, plans to launch such a service on its Google maps on mobile phones.
A customer can download a Google Maps application—it calls the service “My Location”, dubbed the poor man’s GPS—and through mobile phone triangulation gets near-accurate information on where he or she is located.
The service has not been officially launched in India, but users can download the application on a GPRS-enabled mobile device from the US website and map road travel in big Indian cities
“You don’t need a GPS device for this. The sooner we get regulatory issues sorted out, we will make noise and (start) marketing ( the service),” says Prasenjit Phukan, product manager for mobile services with Google India. The search firm has not been able to launch its map service in India due to a dispute with regulators such as the Survey of India, the official Indian map agency, over showing sensitive locations and borders.
Nokia, which makes two out of three mobile phones sold in India, said it would launch location-based search in the country once it comes out with new mobiles with maps at lower price points, but did not specify a time frame for this.
Location-based search “is not new and was never (a) success (in the past),” says Thomas Leliveld, a director for sales and marketing for Nokia multimedia devices.
“The building blocks like processing power was not good, connectivity was not good...no GPS. The basic ingredients are there now to make it (a) success.”
Nokia plans to double the phone models with maps to 10 by end-2008, while launching 25 models of phones with GPS devices globally next year. “It is just a matter of time for having (maps) in every phone,” Leliveld says.
Some experts say GPS devices or a combination of location-based search using cell towers and GPS, would be the ideal model in India, where concerns of privacy could emerge as information is passed on to the operator.
“As soon as the operator knows the location through GSM or WiFi, it becomes a two-way situation, (where) somebody knows where you are and I think there will be lot of resistance,” says Steve Brazier, president and chief executive officer of Canalys, a Singapore-based technology market research firm.
Firms such as Satnav Technologies Ltd, a Hyderabad-company that builds navigation devices with maps of more than 30 cities in India, say location-based services would pick up in India, where bulk of the mobile phones sold are priced low and have GPRS connectivity as compared with cellphones with GPS chips which cost more.
“The location-based service will work in India for the next two years. There is no clear business model now, but it will evolve,” says Amit Kishore Prasad, founder and CEO of Satnav Technologies.
Others said GPS would still be used for navigation. “Location-based service is good to get (business) listings. But it can’t help in directions—for that you need GPS devices,” says Rakesh Verma, managing director of CE Info Systems (P) Ltd, which owns MapmyIndia, India’s largest private sector digital map service firm.
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First Published: Wed, May 14 2008. 07 16 AM IST
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