Telcontar Welcomes Attendees of their first developer conference to a whole new ball game

To kick off a short trip to San Francisco to attend the annual CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment conference, we took in the first Telcontar Developer Conference. The goal of the event – gather together companies and developers of location-based services and introduce them to the product offerings and solutions made available from Telcontar’s location platform.

In the words of Kim Fennel, President and CEO, Telcontar, “it’s a whole new ball game.” Of note, the event was sponsored by were very generously (and visibly) recognized by Telcontar – thanks!

Fennel welcomed the attendees, estimated to number about 150, and kicked things off by discussing “our” market opportunity with respect to location-based services. He referred to the market chain as including data and content providers (i.e. Dynamic data, POIs), the geospatial platform providers (ie. Telcontar), application developers, and the carriers and device makers. Moving the market for LBS forward requires cooperation among all the parts in the value chain and Fennel stated that all must share a common objective and that events such as the “devcon” foster getting the LBS ecosystem together, encourages dialog, stimulates ideas and idea sharing, and perhaps most important, facilitates linkages and partnerships… even access to venture capital funding. Coincidentally, event partner Navteq used the sponsorship to promote a related event, the Navteq LBS challenge… a very successful event designed to promote and stimulate the development of innovative location-based services and applications.

The LBS Value Chain

We heard about what’s going on the current market for LBS:
- the market is now moving forward in high gear
- users are now finding value in LBS
- new applications and new styles are emerging
- convergence is taking place (PC/mobile)
- the bar has been raised for developers
- significant $$ opportunities exist for all the players

Putting the market in context, Telcontar customers are currently generating in excess of 1 billion maps per month. This is the result of developers and users location-enabling pretty much everything, including photos, reservations, games, social networking, and both consumer & enterprise applications.

So what’s driving usage and uptake of LBS?

What’s really big at the moment is embedding maps and directions with local search… this is biggest driver of maps and map usage and we can all thank Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Ask Jeeves, and other leading consumer portals for stimulating this usage. Spinning off of this market is the use of location-enabled social networking (e.g. Streethive) and web mash-ups like the infamous Craig’s List. Discussions and reporting of LBS has moved beyond geospatial and news, articles, editorial are now frequently found inn the mainstream press… good news for the value chain as this stimulates usage from a very large audience.

What do users want?

In order to for LBS to be adopted, used, and recognized as useful, the needs of the user must be addressed. The end-user wants:
- helpful apps
- entertainment
- applications that are simple to use
- rich and accurate data
- affordable (and understandable) pricing
- flexibility and convergence

Where is it all going?

Telcontar feels that maps and directions are everywhere (or should be). Search by location and proximity is needed and integration with the mobile ecosystem is required. Customizable results, rich POIs, enhanced labeling, temporal information, and a tie-in with inventories and other enterprise data are all areas that developers might wish to look at more closely.

Wireless/personal navigation devices (PNDs) will all be location-enabled down the road. Look for expansion of server-based navigation and more personalization. Local search via mobile device and speech recognition for input are also on the horizon.

Telcontar’s advice for success in the market

Developers – keep the following in mind; excite users, entertain, and make your applications simple to use.
Service Providers – the recipe for success and uptake here depends on: differentiation, monetization, ease of use, speed, accurate location detection, and proactive marketing (Sprint/Nextel are getting loads of praise for their lead here!)

What Telcontar has been doing

The company is coming off a year that saw their revenues rise by 64% (2204) and to date, 2005 is on track to see this number rise by as much as 140%. The company recently launched their developer zone and so far some 50 developers are now up and running (one developer got an app up and running after being involved in the devzone for just 2 days). Telcontar’s flagship product is Drill Down Server (DDS),  a platform for enabling mapping apps. The company’s implementation of OpenLS comes out of their DDS Web Services which use Drill Down Server as a back-end server for the location information. Most recently, Telcontar has announced DDS 4.0, traffic manager 4.0,  boasts expanded global data coverage, and has struck new partnerships and business models.

Telcontar can be thought of as the company behind the company, providing the LBS platform for such customers as Yahoo!, Google, Ask Jeeves, and Rand McNally. They provide the backend and supporting infrastructure to answer such questions as: Where am I? What’s near me? What’s most convenient? The company’s solutions support real-time data which is Global in reach. Telcontar’s game plan… to be the obvious choice for LBS developers.

Telcontar’s Solutions

DDS – Drill Down Server
Telcontar’s DDS is the company’s software solution enabling rapid development and deployment of location-based solutions. The DDS enables a variety of LBS apps with fast, powerful access to maps and other spatial data products. The apps can be delivered to multiple devices including cell phones, PDAs, workstations, and web browsers.

RME – Rich Map Engine
The RME enables access to base map data using a patented/proprietary search key technology, enabling optimal organization and rapid search results. RME gives developers access to the following capabilities:
- Map rendering
- Routing
- Positioning
- Dynamic customization
The RME software libraries are the basis of Telcontar’s software platform – Drill Down Server (DDS).

DDS Web Services provides application developers with a Java API. An XML interface to the programming language is also available. Building web services is a snap with this enabler and provides developers with the following functionality:
- directory services
- routes and routing
- location utility
- presentation

DDS web services follows OpenLS standards and developers can get their applications up and running quickly and with relative ease.

Telcontar’s location enabling solutions incorporate data from a number of sources including Navteq, AND, and Tele Atlas. The company’s RME takes the data and serves it up in a proprietary, compact data format known as Rich Map format (RMF) – this results in a 10:1 compaction of datasets… definitely attractive for web services and serving data to mobile clients.

Converting data from a number of vendors to RMF

More about the Developer Zone

Telcontar’s Developer Zone has been created to enable developers  to quickly prototype and develop their applications. Users have access to sample applications, sample code (Java, XML), a running web service connecting to DDS where sample and prototype apps can be run. Collaboration tools provided include a
In support of Telcontar’s vision and their products, a number of reps from some of the leading wireless carriers were in attendance and took part in a small panel discussion. Panel members included representatives from Orange (UK), Bell (Canada), and Sprint/Nextel. Their support for the provision of location-based services to their customers is quite evident. Orange, with more than 64m customers has been touting LBS to their customers for about 5 years now. They provide a server-based offering as GPS-enabled devices are not common in Europe. To date they have seen success with locate nearest type services, time tables, and transportation centric apps (i.e. Locate train station and times etc…).  Bell Canada started their LBS deployments back in 2002 using assisted GPS for positioning. They estimate that roughly 50% of existing customers already own supported devices. Consumer apps and enterprise solutions have seen some success and applications like address find, POI look-up, games, and business tracking have been successful. Finally, Sprint/Nextel who received applause from all the other carriers for their aggressive marketing of LBS (they are the first carrier to aggressively do so in North America) is positioned well as virtually all of their customers are using GPS-enabled devices (courtesy of Motorola) – this has been in response to the FCC’s mandates for e911 compliance.

Something that all the reps seemed to agree on was that services rather than applications need to be focused on. Rich content is a must and the enterprise user space is likely the most attractive and lucrative market, whereas the consumer space is a bigger challenge. What makes the consumer space a challenging market is “discovery”. Getting consumers to discover the services is always a challenge and the marketing of services is an even bigger problem that has plagued the wireless space for some time.

A Developer’s Tale

We were treaded to an interesting presentation by a In a scenario billed as browser based mapping, the developer showed us how he “scraped” data from a popular web service called opentable and re-wrapped it and served it up using a map interface. The old-school, tabular and hyperlinked structure was replaced with a visually appealing map interface that eliminated the need for multiple page views and instead provided an intuitive geospatial search engine.

A view of the new-look opentable

The benefits of the new browser-based app was that it was highly interactive, very responsive to user input, fast, current, and was programmable in a single programming language environment. Using the map-based opentable application users could then search the extensive restaurant database spatially or using a geospatial hierarchy which makes much sense to users. The application lets users query the database for particular restaurant genres within a specified geographic area and make a reservation based on table availability for a given time. Scraping the “boring” tabular-based data and serving it up using a map-based web service gave the application a new life and added tremendous value to the data… a truly compelling reason to location-enable your solutions.

The day-long event was entertaining, informative, and very useful. Hearing first-hand from Telcontar executives and software architects proved to be a valuable learning experience to all in attendance. No doubt several of the developers in the crowd will opt to location-enable their applications with DDS and perhaps one of them will win the next LBS Challenge!

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