Location Services Lost on Users
Verizon Wireless this week announced its first location application, VZ Navigator, a downloadable tool that gives subscribers access to an array of location-based options, including mapping and verbal turn-by-turn navigation over the phone.
The service follows Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s new partnership with Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) to offer localized ads and information over the phone. Both the Google and Verizon applications use GPS satellite positioning to track the user's location.
Though Verizon is selling the Navigator as perfect for "road warriors," many potential enterprise customers remain nonplussed.
"I only have a real high-level, fleeting knowledge that these services exist," admits Gary Goerke, information systems manager, at Ramco-Gershenson Properties Trust. "I've been in conversations with Verizon about wireless broadband and a corporate phone service -- they didn't talk about this kind of service. It appears there isn't a whole lot of education going on."
Lewin Alleyne, VP of IT Operations and LAN services at investment bankers Ryan Beck & Co. is more direct about the flashy applications. "I'm probably not going to look at it, as I don't have the time," he tells Unstrung.
Excitement about the promise of location-based services has been high since vendors were first mandated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to install accurate location tracking on their networks, so that subscribers making a 911 call could be pinpointed to within a few meters. In the late 1990s the FCC laid out a schedule telling the carriers to start rolling out such systems in October 2001, completing the implementation by December 2005.
Making lemonade out of lemons, carriers talked up the wide arrray of location services that could be layered on top of this emergency architecture, from sales force applications to child-tracking services.
But such services, dogged by privacy concerns and other issues, have been slow to reach the market. And the enterprise side of the equation seems to have fallen behind general consumer applications, like keeping track of Junior at the mall.
Still, LBS could be useful for operations with a large, mobile workforce. "If you've got a lot of mobile salesforce people, I can definitely see an application for it," comments Doug Hampshire, IT operations manger for TRI-AD, an employee benefits consulting firm in Escondido, Calif.
Most of the location applications available for the enterprise today deal with larger-scale operations like fleet management -- tracking vehicles and things, rather than people.
Operators like Nextel have traditionally been stronger in this area than Verizon, and the combined Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) claims to have made strides on location services. The operator is working with a number of partners, including Garmin Ltd. (Nasdaq: GRMN) and Motorola, to link location applications to the GPS capabilities in its phones.
Whether these alliances will help location-based services gain traction with enterprise users remains to be seen.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung