The Geospatial Web: A Call to Action
Subject:   From Carl Shim
Date:   2005-05-12 16:59:41
From:   mnl
via e-mail from Carl Shim

"I have spent the last several years working for a large European mobile carrier. To be quite blunt, carriers aren’t exactly a hot bed of innovation and don’t exactly reward people for “no-telco” thinking. It’s hard to get the business to focus on things like reliable (and cheap) mobile IP and positioning technologies when they make oodles of money from SMS messages. In Europe positioning is mostly implemented by cell ID (or some variation of) that is good enough for finding a nearby ATM but not for directions to the ATM. And regarding the API’s, yes they want to charge developers on a per transaction basis for location lookups (ugh), similar in some ways to the web service.

The problem in the US is even worse with the dominance of CDMA carriers. With GSM carriers you have the technical possibility of purchasing your own handset (with whatever technologies, operating systems, and API’s that you want). With CDMA you must buy a handset through the carrier (or maybe radio shack). The end result is that the carrier owns the mobile device, plain and simple. And to be quite honest, I don’t see how that is going to change any time soon, especially with knuckleheads like Verizon. As virtual monopolies these carriers have no incentive to open up the API’s for their phones or services, especially when they don’t understand how to make money off of location services (a point you do raise).

If you believe mobile devices are the key to the masses consuming geospatial applications AND you believe that the integrated mobile phone is likely the platform of choice (not mobile phone+ Bluetooth GPS), then I would add to your call to action:

1) users must be free to purchase devices that that use wireless networks and positioning services as they see fit. This will enable the market to innovate in producing compelling devices and software. For instance: I could build an application that would alert road warriors (perhaps by vibrating the phone) when they are within 500 ft of a starbucks. This would be a simple application involving a small database of locations and a JSR-179 compatible phone. But to get this kind of application into customers hands I would need to work with multiple carriers to get access to the API (or perhaps have my application signed by each individual carrier), have a reasonable number of JSR-179 handsets in the market, AND most likely distribute the application through the carrier. The impediments in place here are enough to turn off most developers of geospatial apps.

2) Carriers should be forced to unbundle devices from contracts and subsidies. Currently manufacturers treat carriers as the customer instead of the end user as the customer. This is broken in so many ways and limits the market from reflecting the actual desires of the user.

Enacting both of these changes would likely require some sort of legislation :(