There are more questions than answers...
The last three years have been a bumpy ride for Location-Based Services (LBS) as WAP and mobile data have failed to raise much enthusiasm from cellular subscribers. "That has changed", said Jake Saunders, Director and co-author of Concise Insight's European Location-Based Services 2004 report. "As operators, such as Vodafone UK, has reported mobile content reaching 1.9% of total service revenue for March 2004, almost double the 1.0% a year before, so too are we seeing a greater range and reliance on location technology to under pin value-added data services."
Concise Insight estimates that 70% to 90% of location-enabled non-voice traffic is WAP-based but there are still a number of applications that use tried and tested SMS. In 2003, in Western Europe, US$ 285 million was generated and that figure could grow to US$ 2 billion by year-end 2007. "Much will depend on the consumer roll-outs of 3G services. European operators such as Telefonica, TIM and Vodafone are currently jostling to launch corporate data download PC card services but it may take a little longer for 3G consumer services similar to Hutchison 3's to materialise", said Jamie Moss, Senior Consultant.
It was originally argued the take-off of commercial LBS will deliver the necessary cash-flow to support the deployment of high accuracy, location positioning solutions, therefore the European Commission should, and could, take a firm, but flexible, stance for its Emergency 112 initiative.
By the end of 2004, the EC will carry out a review of cellular operator compliance with its E112 Directive and Recommendation. Sadly the EC may be a little disappointed. Commercial LBS have taken a little longer than expected to take-off and E112 compliance has been tardy. The EC has three options: a) Get tough: operators must be able to deliver high accuracy and smooth hand-off of relevant location data to the emergency services; b) Remain firm but flexible: operators must be able to deliver a smooth hand-off of relevant personal data to the emergency services but impose no high accuracy mandate; c) Go laissez-faire: and allow operators to meet compliance targets as negotiated with national regulators, on a case by case basis.
Some operators would argue that they have only just reach positive cash-flow after the 3G license splurge of 2000/1. On the other-hand, the emergency services might argue they are facing a mounting challenge. 60% of calls to the emergency services are now on mobiles, which translate into 64 million emergency calls in 2004 for the 21 markets researched. However, in many instances ambulances and fire brigades only have approximate locations. The quicker they get there, the more lives they save. For the time-being, if you are in a critical emergency, you may be better off using a fixed-line phone.
Concise Insight's report clearly demonstrates that commercial LBS is gaining traction in the market-place but given the increasing dependence by society on mobile phones, some hard decisions need to be made. Emergency location data needs to flow from the cellular operator to the emergency services. Who should pay for that? And how to deliver the accuracy? Network-based as well as handset-based solutions abound, but operators seem caught in a triangle of concern for capital expenditure, inter-operability and handset feature-set issues.