Chief Operating Officer,
Tele Atlas Asia-Pacific Pte Ltd.
What has been the business philosophy of Tele Atlas?
Our philosophy is to produce a map which you can rely on completely for your navigation purposes. It is fully updated and takes into account changes taking place on regular basis. We invest our money with that purpose only. In a map across the world15-30 percent of the road network changes on an annual basis. You can imagine how fast things can come up to us such as name has changed, restriction regarding one way has changed, new streets have come up and so on so forth. In order to implement our core philosophy that is, to create the best navigational map available in the market, we have to get all these information about changes occurring in the field and incorporate the same in our system faster than anybody else.
Towards this direction our technology is geared like the mobile mapping vans. These vans drive in the streets with all the sensors, cameras etc and capture the attributes like speed limit, one way restrictions etc. All this information is channeled to our processing unit in India where they are geopositioned onto the map. This technology enables us to move very fast and provide updated maps.
What is your industry presence in the Asia-Pacific region?
We have expanded our footprint substantially in this region and now we are the leaders in terms of Asia- Pacific operations. We have introduced our mobile mapping vans in Singapore and Taipei. We have also set up a 3D production unit in India to produce 3D map, not just for Asia-Pacific region but for the whole world.
There are lot of activities in the region in the past year, not only in terms of geographic coverage but also in operational footprint. Hopefully, our first major task in the coming six months is to bring India into our mapping/geographical coverage.
What kind of strategy you have for Asia-Pacific region?
The initial strategy was to support customers in the region who are focusing on the North America and European market. Lots of our big customers are here like Mitac (Mio), Samsung, Japanese companies like Pioneer. Our initial focus was getting in place the customer support and coverage before we could bring out the map of Asia.
Now we are in a position to operate a comprehensive Asia-Pacific offering. We are now covering lot of geography and lots of customers not only that are in Asia but also the North American and European customers that have started looking at the market opportunity here to launch their products in this region. For example, Garmin has launched its product in Asia- Pacific with Tele Atlas products. Mitac has started its focus on Asia-Pacific particularly in Indonesia and South- East Asia. TomTom has moved into Asia and is establishing its footprint here.
What changes have taken place in Asia- Pacific region in the recent past, in terms of usability of Tele Atlas data?
From the product standpoint we are seeing changes in the marketplace. It is moving from traditional in – car systems where customers only look for navigation to customers looking for different features apart from navigation. Say, for example, in pedestrian navigation, the user desires to find things in different ways where maps has to be scaled with different content.
Another major thing coming to the map now is multi-modal navigation. We now have devices that offers assistance to pedestrians who may have to walk a little, take a bus cross a building skip a flyover and so on. We offer them a map that tells them where they can get a bus, where to take a turn and so on.
In the in-car system space dynamic content is going to be the thing next. In this data on a map is going to change by the minute, hour or day.
Say for example, you are driving down a street and your car needs refueling. Your system will know of this and it will highlight all the gas stations in the vicinity on the map. And through our relationship with the company Shell, the gas prices will be indicated on the monitor. Similarly if we are passing by a parking garage, the system will display the number of parking spaces available in the parking garage through transmission from the parking garage.
Tele Atlas is moving towards fully textured 3D maps where the actual image of the building is textured on the base map. This year we will have one or two cities done in Asia.
What challenges and opportunities do you foresee in this region?
The biggest market opportunity in this region is going to be the wireless handset environment.
If you look at the market, in just ten years, the mobile phone market in China and Indonesia have grown very fast. This is going to be a big game in coming five years.Coming to the challenges, the Asia-Pacific region has a diverse geography.
Countries in the region have diverse environment and definitely it is quite a task to work in this environment.
The challenge here is to develop a map through our model of going to different countries and form relationship with the best establishments in the mapping field and bringing their products in our common format that is usable to our customers like TomTom, Garmin, etc. who are eyeing this market.
In the Asia Pacific region will you create a new set of data which is in the lines of the core philosophy of Tele Atlas or are you going to look at or partner people or companies having the information?
We will do both. The most significant model will be going to a geography where we are not. As every country has a handful of mapping companies.
We will analyse those companies, meet and evaluate their offerings and pick those we feel is the most capable and has the best product and will result in fruitful partnership. Sometimes these partnerships are through acquisition but more common is through joint venture, i.e., we invest in the resources like mobile mapping van as we did in Taiwan. In Taiwan we had a joint venture with SNT last July. Once we have the partnership we enhance the database to bring to the quality of the product with what people expect from Tele Atlas.
How will Asia-Pacific leverage upon being the second mover?
I think it is going to happen very fast. It has the largest consumer base for the mobile phone handsets. As of now all the high end mobile handsets are GPS enabled. In the coming years the mobile handset companies will include this technology in all their offerings.
Though its very early, but we have seen a tremendous amount of interest not only among mobile handset manufacturers but also operators in various geographies.
We have made an announcement about a month and half ago about our plans to work with Indosat in Indonesia in conjunction with Garmin to offer map enabled LBS on RIM blackberry device. Be it China, or Korea or India, the LBS market is seeing a lot of activity. Right now the companies are in the process of finalizing their strategies, that is, how they want to turn out, what application they want to develop and how often they want to deliver that or what their business model is going to be?
I think we are still at a very early stage.
But coming hand to hand with mass market adoption of GPS enabled mobile devices, you need to have an LBS ecosystem, an environment that support that. In my opinion, digital mapping will be a major part of that. That is where Tele Atlas is.
With the companies like Google and Nokia eyeing at this market opportunity, how do you foresee this market to grow in future and what would be the strategy of Tele Atlas and TomTom with regard to the competition in market space?
Tele Atlas is going to continue to be a digital mapping company. We have invested a huge amount, close to a billion dollar, in the last 20 years in this field and we feel that right now we have the best digital maps available in the market.
Our important characteristic is that our product is fully navigable. It’s the key. It is one thing to tell where a place is, but how to get to that place.
That is where we differentiate. So I would say that Tele Atlas is not in the space of competing with content companies. We are going to do what we do best, that is produce digital maps.