The hot emerging apps driving LBS opportunities for South African mobile networks

There’s far more to location-based services (LBS) than checking in with FourSquare when you visit your favourite local coffee shop.

July 18, 2013

By Quentin Joubert, product manager at Cellfind

There’s far more to location-based services (LBS) than checking in with FourSquare when you visit your favourite local coffee shop. The ability to gather rich, accurate location data, and then act on it in real time, is powering a host of innovative services in the consumer and enterprise markets alike. Indeed, it looks set to be one of the major technology battlegrounds of the future, with Google recently offering to acquire the Waze mapping service for $1 billion. Here are a few examples of the LBS applications that are set to explode in the consumer and enterprise markets over the years ahead, creating great growth opportunities for mobile network operators.

Consumer market

1. Personal safety
This is perhaps one of the most established and mature consumer applications of GSM LBS technology. Cellfind – together with the network operators – allows users to track family members’ cellphones (with the tracked person’s permission, of course!) via the GSM network. Obtaining the person’s real-time location is as simple as sending a query from a cell phone via SMS, USSD, WAP or by visiting a website. Other services turn the cellphone into a mobile panic button, allowing users to send a panic message to their loved ones so that emergency services can be dispatched to their location in the event of a crisis. These services are experiencing rapid growth in South Africa because of the peace of mind they offer, especially for parents who worry about kids going out at night.

2. Contextual services and information
Services that make it easy to find the nearest restaurant, petrol station or a shop are becoming increasingly popular among consumers. Paired with turn-by-turn navigation, such services make it easy for consumers to find their way to a service or facility they require, wherever they are. Live traffic data is another example – imagine getting forewarned about a traffic jam 10 kilometres further up the highway so that you can turn off and take an alternate route.

3. Social networking
Now that people are becoming more comfortable sharing their information with each other on social networks, sharing of location data is going to become more and more popular. Friends will be able to find each other easily – we can even expect to see dating services that leverage location data come to
the fore.

Enterprise market

1. Process efficiency and workforce management
With rising petrol and labour costs, companies are on a drive to handle their mobile workforces as efficiently as possible. They can use LBS to route technicians and salespeople to customers throughout the working day, for example, dispatching the nearest person with the right skills to fix a customer’s broken photocopier in a more seamless and automated manner. There’s no more phoning around to find someone who can get onsite within an hour – they can be tracked by their cellphones. This gives organisations more flexibility in handling customer requests during the day, maximises the time people work as opposed to the time they spend driving around, and helps to reduce fuel costs. An added bonus is that companies can check that drivers and technicians are not straying outside the territories they are
meant to be working.

2. Keeping people and assets safe
As in the consumer market, safety is a major driver of LBS adoption in the corporate market. Some examples of emergency LBS apps in the corporate market include mobile panic buttons, traffic and danger alert information services, and geofencing apps that track vehicles, people and assets and warn an operator when a driver is straying into a dangerous area. GSM-based LBS solutions are finding strong acceptance in the market as a backup for GPS-based vehicle and asset tracking when the GPS network is unavailable.

3. Contextual marketing and advertising
Mobile, LBS-based advertising offers advertisers the ability to target ads at users, based on what location data reveals about where they are and what they are doing at a particular time. If location data could be combined with demographic information, marketers will be able to deliver ads that are tailored to the user’s interests, gender and age. They could target potential customers with an unprecedented level of precision. The potential applications are limitless. For example, restaurant could send a discount voucher by SMS to a mobile subscriber close to one of its restaurants at lunch time or a shoe store could send information about a promotion to people nearby through an app.

4. Fraud detection
South Africans already use alerts on their cellphones to track transactions on their banking accounts and to receive one-time PINs to authenticate transactions. But what if the bank knew your cellphone was in Cape Town, while someone was trying to use your credit card in Johannesburg? You could be alerted so that you could stop a fraudster from using your card. There are some potentially interesting applications for LBS in this area once the data sharing and privacy issues have been sorted out.

5. Contextual pricing
This is a major opportunity for mobile network operators. In the same way as mobile operators offer different tariffs for different times of the day, they could offer different prices in different locations. Why shouldn’t your operator offer you a lower price for phoning from your home in a quiet suburb than it does for making a call from its congested base tower in an urban node? This is potentially a great way of encouraging customer stickiness and getting users to use their cellphones rather than a landline, even at home.

Closing words

South African network operators have needed to invest in technology for lawful interception and monitoring to meet regulatory demands. To drive the best returns from their capex and opex on this technology, they should be considering what sorts of consumer and enterprise LBS they can enable to
gain access to new revenues. Provided they handle the issue of data privacy in a transparent and
consumer-friendly manner, network operators can profit handsomely from LBS. It is likely to be one of the fastest growing value-added services in the next few years.