New Delhi: Falling semiconductor prices and multiplying cellular networks are bringing together two until-now disparate technologies—the ubiquitous mobile phone and the not-so-common global positioning system (GPS)—throwing up innovative solutions that promise to alter the way people work and play.
GPS as a technology has been around for three decades but applications both for commercial and individual users are relatively new. Imagine, for instance, a call centre security guard able to monitor late-shift employees being dropped back home safely. Or, a teenager receiving an automatic text message on her mobile phone that a friend from her online network is at the same mall as she is. Or, a fleet manager knowing exactly where shipments are at any given time.
Though it may sound complicated, GPS is hardly rocket science though it did take a few rockets to put the technology in place.
“All around us, we are inundated by the continuous signals from 30 GPS satellites from space,” says Ashutosh Pande, managing director of the Indian arm of SiRF Technology Inc., the large GPS chip manufacturer.
Cellphones enabled with a GPS chip, costing around $10 (Rs420), can detect the satellite signals. “The GPS chip can then calculate the location of the instrument down to a precision of one to three metres, which can then be conveyed to a computer on the Internet using the cellular data network,” explains Pande. Or, the signal can be relayed to another user as a text message.
While consumer applications based on GPS technology were introduced in the US four years ago, including specially designed phones that let parents keep track of the movements of their children, they are yet to be launched in India. “Till two years ago, we needed individual licences for each GPS-enabled device we imported,” Pande says. That has changed but even today the awareness among mobile phone operators is low.
The appetite is mostly among commercial users, especially in the vehicle-tracking segment. Around half a dozen companies, ranging from mobile operators to device manufacturers, have entered the business that is predicted by consultant Frost & Sullivan to expand to around $78 million by 2011, from around $10 million at present.
Tracking solutions specialist Visesh Infotechnics Ltd is one company aiming to surf that fast growth in demand. In the last two years, the Bangalore-based firm has implemented tracking solutions for a prominent financial call centre in Mumbai and assisted trucking companies manage theirfleets better.
The rapid spread of mobile networks beyond cities and towns helps, says Visesh director Bhaskar Sen. “Now we have tie-ups with a number of operators who allow us to use their networks to transmit such data for around Rs200 per month per instrument,” he says.
Pune-based TACO MobiApps Telematics Ltd, a joint venture between Tata Auto Comp Systems Ltd and Singapore’s MobiApps Holdings Pte. Ltd, too has implemented fleet management solutions using mobile networks to relay back information from a GPSreceiver.
“The tracking market is very very nascent right now, but the opportunities are big,” says its chief executive officer Ramesh Narain.
“In the fleet management business, for example, out of the three million trucks on the road, only around 25,000, besides the oil carriers, arefitted with trackingdevices.”
Cellular operators sense the opportunity too. They provide subsidized roaming and data and messaging rates to tracking companies. Hutchison Essar Ltd launched its own vehicle tracking service six months ago with GPS-GSM equipment costing around Rs5,500, significantly below the market price of Rs10,000.
Bharti Airtel Ltd, India’s biggest mobile phone service firm, expects strong uptake of the technology from logistics and retail companies. Bharti expects such location-based services to contribute about 15% of its revenues from corporate customers in 12-15 months, says its chief marketing officer for enterprise services Ruchir Godura. The company did not give details of such revenues.