‘Location awareness will become part of our platforms’

‘Location awareness will become part of our platforms’

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Samsung recently announced their new generation of galaxy phones called Samsung Galaxy S2. Location is becoming more and more important in terms of consumer experience with phone, it’s no longer focussed on just specialised services or navigation,

Kanwar Chadha
Kanwar Chadha
Founder, Sirf & CMO, CSR Plc

Can you tell us about your tie-up with Samsung?
Samsung recently announced their new generation of galaxy phones called Samsung Galaxy S2. Location is becoming more and more important in terms of consumer experience with phone, it’s no longer focussed on just specialised services or navigation, location is now becoming part of our search, social networking, for broad range of applications. The experience that consumers have with location is very important aspect of the experience they have with smartphones in general, especially in the context of broad range of applications.

From the past two years, we have worked with Samsung to help them enhance the experience of their customer’s location. They have integrated the SiRFstarIV™ location-aware architecture which we launched about a year ago into this phone platform and the reviews that we have received so far have shown that consumers’ location experience with the phone is much better than previous generations. We are very happy with that.

Our relationship with Samsung goes across different platforms. They are also big partners in our experience with audio for Bluetooth headsets, connectivity with Bluetooth in general. Our relationship with Samsung is across multiple technologies. We have just announced that their new headsets are using our Bluetooth technology and our wireless audio products as well.

You are getting quite active in Indian market. Your latest experience with Delhi Transport department is one such example. Can you tell us about it?
India is an interesting market for us. We are doing core technology development in India. One of the major efforts we started a few years ago in India was to focus on infrastructure for location, for enterprise and large organisational utilities, different from the traditional consumer experience which we have with our chipsets and this end-to-end experience with servers and infrastructure back-end. We are now working with a number of organisations in India to integrate the technology into tracking buses, fleets, vehicles and trucks.

It’s more than just tracking. It’s what we call the logistics management. It’s not just the ability to track but also, over a period of time, the ability to predict the arrival time of buses and things like that which are very important because in India, traffic congestion is a major issue.

In India, there is huge infrastructure that is being built in terms of natural resource activity like mining. At one time, there are hundreds of trucks plying along and it’s very important to track them as well. Your comments.
I think in Indian market, we are going to see both consumer aspects which will come through as I said, your normal experience with facebook, google search and navigation, and organisational aspect where productivity enhancement and cost savings are very important since there are plenty of vehicles on roads, prices are high and roads are congested. Also, it prevents misuse of these resources.

CSR is having a stint with location enabled maps as well. Can you detail us about that.
One of the goals that we have is to give consumers out-of-the-box experience with location and some of that comes through location capability which is already embedded in the application – in facebook places, location is an embedded part of the experience and also by developing what we call applets. These are not really large-scale apps but applets to help consumers get out-of-the-box experience even if they don’t have more sophisticated apps like facebook on the platform. With Java phones, you can’t run big applications but you can run small applets which are very interesting way of experiencing location for the first time. So one of the part of this whole effort, which by the way, is driven out of our India office, is what we call enhancing consumer experience or enterprise experience with location, that is, providing end-to-end infrastructure which means our servers actually host some of these applications, providing some of these applets so that an enterprise can get immediate experience with the location before they deploy the larger apps. That’s part of this whole incubation aspect. If you look at how lots of these especially emerging economies are evolving, everyone doesn’t have a smartphone, also even in an organisational environment, people want to first see, that is, what they will get from location. So these applets help them get that experience. We have also started to host it in the cloud which means they really don’t need any infrastructure to start getting that experience. Obviously once they are comfortable with it, then many of them will deploy servers or many of them will still stay in the cloud and just use it as a service.

Today, I guess not just naming location but also creating context with location is very important. How does lifeline fare in those aspects?
Actually, if you think about it, location has two aspects. Obviously creation of location is very important because ultimately that’s what will get you that end result but there’s a fundamental shift in the whole infrastructure. In the old days, everything required was put into a device which meant that everything you needed to get an experience, whether it was a navigation experience or a tracking experience, was embedded in that device. Now what’s happening is lots of content, the global content, is actually in the cloud. In the cloud, you have mapping database of the whole world but at any instance in time, a device can only handle localised content. Hence, location is a very interesting filter to add localised context to that content. So any kind of content can gain by having location as what I call the contextual awareness filter, and applets like lifeline enable you to gain. Again, I want to separate it from an app because an app is really much broader than location being one aspect of that app, so lifeline is more of an applet and allows you to experience different aspects of location. I think the actual context will be the much broader space when people start using more and more of facebook places and google local search, that is, at any instance of time, when they land somewhere, they immediately have context to the global content they can access.

Is lifeline something that is free for download or is it a paid service?
It is a free applet and it’s available on both blackberry and java platforms and consumers can download it and experience it.

What are your plans for Indian market?
In Indian market, we are looking at multiple aspects. One is of course, expanding our footprints in different organisations in terms of tracking and providing logistics management to large scale fleets. Also, bringing it as a hosted service to smaller scale fleets. Again when you start thinking about hosted services, then an enterprise doesn’t have to make huge investment in the servers and things like that. Our goal is to expand our footprint on that side, where we will provide both hosted services and end-to-end solutions, that is, expanding our overall horizons of what we do with location. The other is of course, bringing all the experience that we have with location deployment into the broad range of devices and bringing them to the Indian market. As handsets like Samsung Galaxy S2 and others and new tablets coming out, get launched into the global market, we are working with operators here and making them aware of what can be deployed in India. I think that’s bringing some of the global platform into the Indian market and then developing some platforms which are specifically for India. The other area we have just started focusing more on is in the automotive side of the Indian market where we need some solution which are significantly more customised for the market because of the price-point issues. Today, we are very successful in the western markets where navigation systems are now getting installed in cars. The PND systems are coming in-built in cars. Problem is the price-points, they are quite expensive – you pay about USD 1,000 to 2,000 per navigation system. In India, you can buy a car for about USD 3,000 – 4,000. So those price-points have to be very disruptive if you want to add navigation as well as what you call telematics capability, so that if car gets stuck, you can just push a button and your service provider will know where you are. We are trying to work with operators to provide services and also work with automotive manufacturers to help them build very low cost navigation and telematics platform.

Even in US, I see the trend that smartphones are replacing PNDs. In fact, in the last 2-3 years, there is a dip in the sales of PNDs. How do you see this trend?
Actually, what we are seeing are two divergent trends. In the western world, we are seeing PND sales are, I won’t say they are dipping but they are basically flattening out, completely flattening out. But in the developing world, especially in China, PNDs are growing quite rapidly. The other trend that we are witnessing is that PNDs are getting hurt in two ways – one is the smartphones which means that people who are using navigation locationally would rather use it in smartphones than buy a PND, and the other is that they are being embedded in cars. So we see more cars with navigation system installed in them, Earlier, it used to be high-end, but now we see it in mid-range cars as well. In China, we are seeing an interesting trend; they are doing a hybrid system. It’s basically a PND platform but it’s designed to fit into car so it’s a much less expensive platform, but it does get dealer installation, that is, it doesn’t look like a separate navigation system on the dash, and that’s a kind of concept which I think will be more successful in India market as well, where you can actually get the price point of PND but instead of having to sit on the dash, it is actually built into the car system, and that’s why we call those hybrid systems are actually growing quite fast.

In India, navigation as a concept is yet to catch up. In fact, hardly any people know about this. So what is the marketing strategy you will be applying to market the lifeline or your enterprise products?
I think the GPS coverage in India is pretty strong, the problem is the maps – if you don’t have the maps, then we can tell you where your position is but the problem is how will you go from point A to point B without maps, you can’t do it. And that’s one of the fundamental problems in navigation – till the map infrastructure provides the broad coverage, it’s very difficult for people to get excited about navigation system. The western world also went through the same phenomena. Companies like Navteq, for first 10-12 years, were really big loss-making enterprises because they were building maps, but till you reach a critical mass of map coverage, people won’t buy the systems. Western world is pretty heavily mapped, thanks to Google and all that. Actually, even the emerging world is getting pretty heavily mapped now. Both India and China governments have actually opened up the mapping infrastructure for private companies to build on. I think maps are going to become available with a broad coverage in India in next year or two. The challenge, as I said, is really the price point because it’s not 15 or 30 per cent price decline you have to deal with in India for navigation or telematics to become successful, you have to go from USD 200 to USD 100 price point, so you need a much more disruptive price points.

The other thing is that many people in India are actually, again because of the smartphones and Google maps, starting to get familiar with navigation through those types of systems and if the price-point is right, I expect that people will get more and more comfortable with the in-car navigation systems. So our goal is actually to work with the auto-manufacturers and operators. The consumer experience is not just navigation but ultimately they can get traffic information, it also becomes your theft prevention system. It’s a combination of typically the following two systems in the western world – the navigation system which you see and the telematic system which is hidden and is only used either in an emergency or when the car is stolen and all that. But by having this connected navigation system, we can provide both those functionalities, and can do away with some of the hardware if people use those services. There are number of things we are trying to do but it is not a quick solution because basic infrastructure with mapping and price points is still not here. But the positive thing is that car market in India is doing quite well and the earning power of people is going up, so people are looking for new technologies which will help them in their day-to-day life. I think navigation system is one of those things which is very useful once you get used to it – it’s just that people need to have that first experience and that will come through applets like lifeline which is what we are trying to do, and also through Google maps, and other things which people have started to use through smartphones.

Can you tell us about the trends of location?
If you look at last three years, people’s experience with location is primarily through GPS. The GPS satellite system was originally designed for defence applications but in last two decades, it has gotten much broader coverage in the consumer application; and that’s today the anchor for most of the location systems worldwide. The system is pretty reliable but it does have some limitations, so primarily it was never designed to work indoors, or in heavily obstructed environments which is what you call urban canyon effect. Now companies like us have tried to elevate some of those issues by coming up with new algorithms, new architectures, but fundamentally you still have limitations with the technology in terms of its coverage indoors and deeply obstructed environments. So from technology standpoint, there are two-three things happening. One, there are other satellite systems coming up – Russia has a system called Glonass which is now almost fully operational. Europeans are working on Galileo which is another system which is still probably 3-4 years away but it’s coming up. Chinese are working on a system called Compass, and then you have regional systems coming up, both India and Japan are deploying some individual systems. So we are going to see more and more satellites. From technology standpoint, more satellites help us get better positions, esp., in more and more obstructed environments. If we have three GPS satellites, addition of two more, will provide veru good location. The second aspect we are starting to see is especially coming from the smartphone side. More and more phone platforms have started to have other sensors like cellular operators and gyros, mostly designed to have consumer experience with games or tilting and things like that, but we are starting to integrate those sensors into our location enabling capability. So accelerometer tells us the speed of moment, gyros or compasses tell us the direction. By combining those sensor inputs with the satellite inputs, we can significantly enhance the consumer experience, esp. indoors. One of the key developments shared between Californian and Indian office is this development of multi-sensor location, and we are working with IIT Delhi on research project to bring this to market. It is a combination of university research, our in-house capabilities and using what is available in the platform.

And the third thing we have started to do is look at other radio sensors which are there. Again in smartphones, you have cellular sensors, you have wi-fi, combine those and ultimately our goal is to have a fusion-experience with location, from a technology standpoint. So it doesn’t matter where you are, you will always get a good location, sometimes it will be extremely accurate, sometimes it may not be as accurate but consumer will know this is the quality of location I am getting. What we are finding out is that applications which require location indoors typically don’t require extremely accurate location, whether it is facebook, or google local search, if I can give you location within 100 or 200 metre, that’s good enough for you to share that information. Actually in many cases, people don’t want accurate location shared, but they want approximate location shared. For example, there are applications like Foursquare where they say, ‘I have landed’, ‘I have checked in’; so it’s like I want you to know that I am somewhere in this particular area but I don’t want you to know that I am in this particular office. In those applications, indoor location is more important but absolute accuracy is not as critical; while in navigation, absolute accuracy is very important because if you miss the turn, you may have to go a long way before you can find a u-turn. So this whole fusion architecture is being designed to really link – first, provide location everywhere, and second, provide quality of service based on the application and the context in which location is being used. I think we are going to see a fundamental shift in location technology and how it is getting used in next few years because of the demand of the people. Initially people are happy to get any kind of location, but then as they start using more and more applications, they want more accurate location, and even if you can’t give location for ten per cent of time that becomes a very frustrating experience. It’s almost the same thing we experienced with navigation in the earlier PND days. If the system worked 80 per cent of time, we were very happy, and then as we began using it more and more, the fact that it didn’t work 20 per cent of the time, was more irritating than the fact that it worked 80 per cent of the time. So now navigation experience is very much focused on 95 per cent plus location availability. And our goal is to get consumer same level of location experience in every kind of application they use.

So where is it leading us to – are we going to wear our accurate location just like we wear our time?
Absolutely. I tell people, from very early days, human beings have looked at sky for two things – to see approximate time and approximate location. These are the two things that go with us wherever we go. So the whole world is going to be, what I call, location aware. Ultimately, you won’t have to worry about location because it will be embedded in almost everything we do. Now that does bring up some other issue. In US, there is a big discussion going on about how does this whole concept of location awareness all the time impact privacy. So from service provider’s standpoint, we have to make sure that there is enough protection in the system to protect the privacy while providing the services which people want, because you don’t want to compromise the consumer experience with the service. This means that to have a seamless experience, you have to have location awareness available all the time but at the same time, you want to protect their privacies; so the filters and the obtain is very critical to make that work.

Anything that you would like to tell our readers?
India is a bit behind in experience with this technology but I think it is one of those things that’s easy to catch up. In the next few years, the whole concept of how people use location and how people use different kind of devices is going to change with more and more content and services hosted in the cloud. We are now hosting our platforms in the cloud, so the whole world is getting what we call location aware connected world and in that world, different kind of devices, different kind of platforms are really going to come into play. What you are going to see is location is embedded into the whole cloud-based platform architecture – that’s a new concept. Just like India actually started behind in connectivity – and in wired connectivity we are still behind but in wireless we are ahead of the world in many cases – I think the same thing is going to happen with location and cloud connected content because we are wirelessly connected pretty much everywhere in India. With cloud-based content, location awareness will become part of our platforms.