Mobile and GPS. Born to live together in the short term?

As a concept, there is nothing new about GPS. What has changed is the way the consumer uses information about location. The means by which they want to access information is also changing. Five years ago, GPS was only embedded in top-end vehicles, but with the availability of cheap and sturdy handheld after-market personal navigation devices (PNDs), the number of consumers who own such devices has increased.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the next step in GPS evolution would bring it out of the car and on to the street, or even inside buildings. In other words, PND functionality is coming to the mobile phone. Let me share some interesting info with you.

Although the first GSM handsets with integrated GPS were launched already in the late 1990’s, broader availability of consumer-oriented handsets with GPS did not appear until late 2006, primarily in Japan. In other parts of the world, the major handset and smartphone vendors commenced rollout of a growing number of models, mainly to address the growing interest in commercial location-based services. The number of GPS-enabled handset models available on worldwide markets outside Japan has increased from about 40 at the end of 2007, to more than 130 at the end of Q1-2009.

Sales of GPS-enabled GSM/WCDMA handsets grew to about 78 million units in 2008, up from 28 million devices the previous year. Berg Insight estimates that shipments of GPS-enabled GSM/WCDMA handsets will grow to 770 million units in 2014, representing an attach rate of 55 percent. Including handsets based on other air interface standards such as CDMA and iDEN, GPS-enabled handsets sales are estimated to reach about 960 million, or 60 percent of total handset shipments in 2014.

The cellular and connectivity chipset industry is going through a phase of consolidation and strategic change of focus following increasing competition, technology developments and changing customer demands. In 2008, NXP Semiconductors and STMicroelectronics (ST) formed a joint venture for wireless semiconductors that barely commenced operations before a new deal between ST and Ericsson to merge with Ericsson Mobile Platforms was announced. The new 50/50 joint venture – ST-Ericsson – started operations in February 2009. Moreover, in early 2009, the GPS specialist NemeriX filed for bankruptcy and the connectivity chipset vendor CSR announced its plans to merge with the GPS developer SiRF.

Handset software and applications are becoming more important as handset performance improves and new functionality is being added. Especially smartphone operating systems are receiving more attention from handset manufacturers, mobile network operators, application developers and last but not least users. Smartphones are devices that support installation of native third party applications. Most smartphones also allow full multitasking, enabling users to run multiple applications at once, including background applications. Spurred by Apples success, most major handset vendors have now announced or launched on-device application stores that allow users to download applications and content directly to their handsets. More and more of these applications have some kind of support for GPS location.

Chipset vendors are developing a variety of solutions targeting various segments. Products include GPS modules, standalone GPS chipsets, host-based GPS chipsets, multi-mode chipsets, integrated GPS cores and software-based GPS receivers. GPS technology for handsets has matured greatly, offering much better performance in terms of sensitivity, power consumption, size and price than was possible a few years ago.

Furthermore, the OMA SUPL A-GPS standard has enabled lower cost deployment of A-GPS services that ensure a better and more consistent user experience necessary for the consumer market. The SUPL standard allows cost efficient deployment of A-GPS services that reduce the time-to-first-fix, lowers power consumption and enhances the sensitivity of GPS receivers. New business models have also become possible, ranging from hosted services for operators, to services deployed by handset vendors for end-users that cannot get similar services from their network operator yet. Handset vendors are also starting to adopt hybrid location technologies that combine GPS with other wireless and sensor-based technologies, including Wi-Fi positioning, accelerometers, gyroscopes or electronic compasses.

We had a project last year that measured the importance of having the GPS capability when crossed with churn, consumption and some other relevant KPIs. Results were impressive in some specific segments of the operator’s customer base. Although it’s yet soon to conclude that this characteristic will be fundamental in the short term, it’s clear to me that this assessment will be a reality in the mid term.

Best regards, CVA

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