CTIA 2010: Location Apps Go Cross-Carrier
AT&T joins Verizon Wireless and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) on the list of Loc-aid customers, but the company's president and CEO Rip Gerber says T-Mobile US Inc. won't be far behind. (See Carriers Beat Facebook to Location Game and Verizon Outlines App Store Political Spectrum .)
Thanks to wireless operators opening up their application programming interfaces (APIs), developers have access to network-centric subscriber information that can make their apps a lot more relevant. Included in this is access to GPS data to locate millions of subscribers down to their devices.
Both AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless are leading the charge for open APIs, and Loc-aid is one company ready and waiting to tie together the data they are exposing, which will make it easier for mobile developers to reach more users with their apps.
A one-time location-based services (LBS) app developer turned aggregator, Loc-aid aims to help the wireless operators "get back in the fight," Gerber says. It's a fight they are currently losing to the likes of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Facebook . He says that Loc-aid's been deep in AT&T's LBS platform for some time, but is going public about the project now as the carriers are opening up. (See Facebook's Potential LBS Faceplant .)
"The big boys are finally in the game," Gerber says, which in turn makes the game much more exciting for location aggregation companies like Loc-aid, Location Labs, or WaveMarket Inc. . By acting as a gateway to the carriers, they offer developers the ability to aggregate data across carriers, making the number of reachable devices much larger.
According to a Verizon Wireless spokeswoman, aggregators have a good value proposition for developers looking to broaden their reach, but anyone can go to Verizon's developer portal and create an application to query location of Verizon devices, with privacy and permissions incorporated.
There are social networking and entertainment-oriented LBS apps aplenty that may go the direct-to-carrier route, but Loc-aid is going after the big brand-name enterprises that are looking to provide contextual, hyper-local services to their customers. Gerber says the Foursquares and Gowalla's of the world only make up about 3 percent of downloads. It's the big brands like financial institutions that will pay for accurate cross-carrier location to target mobile users for services like fraud management, asset tracking, or proximity marketing.
"If you are a mobile developer, if you had to get APIs from Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, that's a lot of work and location to manage," Gerber says. "Much better to go to Loc-aid with one single API. All you do is provide a mobile number, and we serve back a location."
Despite the promise of open APIs, most developers go this route, he says. Of course, working through an aggregator also means that developers pay the aggregator first who charges on a cost-per-look-up basis and shares the revenues with the carriers. But, Loc-aid can also simplify things by providing the privacy management, scale, and reporting required. (See Are Carrier Fees Killing LBS? )
"We can reach 300 million wireless subscribers, which is so important for enterprise developers who have been waiting for this kind of access," Gerber says. "At least, the big boys announced they'd do it and now they are making it happen. Watch out in 2011."
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile