Google Latitude: operator business case heading south‾

Jeremy Green and Michele Mackenzie/Ovum
29 May 2009

Latitude allows users to track the whereabouts of others through an opt-in process. At launch it worked in 27 countries and reportedly had 1 million users in the first week. It has since launched enhancements which include adding your city-level location to Google Talk and Gmail messages, and the Google Public Location Badge which allows users to publish their location on their website or blog.

Location has long been touted as one of the key enablers which should be core to both the operator\'s own direct-to-consumer (D2C) service offering and more recently as a network enabler which operators could open up to third-party application developers and preferably at a premium.

However, operators have dragged their heels for so long that device vendors such as Nokia and internet players such as Google have stolen a march, launching their own location-enabled applications and building location platforms which allow them to enable third-party applications and build developer communities to serve their own user bases.

Google is in the process of building a location network across its markets and this is largely independent of the operator\'s cooperation (although it is dependent on the operator refraining from disruptive action).

For most operators, it is too late to develop location awareness as a fully-fledged premium service. And it was becoming increasingly unlikely that they would succeed in offering location as an enabler to third parties.

But Vodafone\'s recent announcement that it will open up its network APIs to the developer community puts Vodafone at least back in the picture. Vodafone is one of the few operators with the size and scale to take on some of the other contenders. But is it too little too late‾

Google\'s location platform uses a number of data criteria and location solutions in order to pinpoint the user\'s location.

It takes the device\'s dynamically assigned IP address in order to determine the user\'s country information. It then identifies the cell tower which is serving the user in order to determine further the location of the user; this is done by the Google Maps application itself, so that the device can calculate its own location without any further information from or calculations by the operator\'s network.

Google has built its own database of cell tower locations and cell IDs, information which is collected through active "war driving" and its mapping application and fed back to its database. Google Latitude also uses the network of Wi-Fi access point locations in order to determine the user\'s location, and lastly the GPS functionality on the mobile phone.

Google\'s service is to some extent dependent therefore on the operator\'s infrastructure.

At present, this would not be an issue for most operators who are seeking to drive further data traffic on their networks and Google\'s applications are contributing to this.

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