Nokia Wants Your Cell Phone To Tell You Where You Are

Nokia began a major push to transform cell phones into personal navigation devices last week as the company began integrating GPS technology into its handsets.

Elena Malykhina, Technology Journalist

October 7, 2006

4 Min Read

If Nokia has its way, no one will be able to dodge the question, "Where are you calling from?" Cell phones took a step toward becoming self-contained personal navigation devices last week, as the No. 1 mobile phone maker said it will integrate global positioning system technology and location-based services into its handsets.

Nokia entered a licensing deal that gives it access to patents held by positioning applications company Trimble that are related to GPS. Trimble provides GPS, laser, and optical location technologies, selling mostly to the military and agricultural and mining companies. Trimble hopes the agreement will help it expand its customer base and break into the consumer market. The overall demand for mobile location-based services will mushroom to more than $8.5 billion by the end of 2010, from less than $1 billion in 2005, according to Juniper Research.

World In Your HandCell phone and smartphonelocation features

Nokia N95 phones have built-in mapping software and integrated GPS

Motorola Offers maps, points of interest, and spoken or text directions

Samsung GPS-enabled phones require a subscription with a third-party carrier

RIM BlackBerry Pearl has BlackBerry Maps built in but no integrated GPS

Palm Treos offer voice-guided directions but aren't GPS-enabled

The deal includes sublicensing rights, meaning the phone maker will be allowed to open the Trimble technology to other vendors in a bid to hasten adoption of mobile location-based services, says Waldemar Sakalar, director of strategy and business development in Nokia's mobile phones group. Nokia didn't disclose financial terms of the deal.

The agreement follows Nokia's August acquisition of gate5, a maker of wireless mapping, routing, and navigation software. Within a month of that deal, Nokia announced the N95, a mobile device that comes with integrated GPS technology and preinstalled gate5 software. The N95 is slated to start shipping in the first quarter of 2007. Its mapping application resides on the phone rather than being wirelessly linked to the device from a faraway server. It lets users search through maps of more than 100 countries.

Nokia plans to launch more devices with GPS capability, as well as services such as local search, which will let users find relevant information based on their location. Nokia's strategy of preinstalling mobile location-based services in phones is designed to give the company a tighter relationship with users, who will be freed from reliance on carriers for such services. "It's a very public statement that Nokia is moving away from total dependence on [telecom carriers] as a channel to market," Gartner analyst Nick Jones says.

The No. 2 mobile phone maker, Motorola, also sells models with integrated GPS. Samsung sells phones with GPS capability, but its customers have to subscribe to a service such as Verizon Wireless' VZ Navigator if they want to get location information through their handsets.

BlackBerry's Approach
Research In Motion, the top U.S. smartphone maker, offers location-based services through BlackBerry Maps, an application available on its BlackBerry Pearl smartphone. The BlackBerry Pearl doesn't have embedded GPS, but it can take advantage of GPS capabilities in BlackBerry Maps and other GPS-enabled applications if it's used with a Bluetooth-based GPS receiver peripheral. BlackBerry devices work with third-party applications to give turn-by-turn navigational instructions to users driving from location to location. Palm, the second largest smartphone maker, doesn't have GPS-enabled Treos, but it has teamed with TomTom International to provide Treo users with voice-guided, turn-by-turn directions.

The FCC's Enhanced 911 requirements are driving U.S. carriers to make mobile devices with technology called assisted GPS that helps first responders find people making emergency calls on mobile devices. In a few years, the majority of cell phones and other mobile devices sold in the United States will have some form of GPS, Gartner's Jones says, but not all of them will be used for navigation as Nokia plans.

About the Author(s)

Elena Malykhina

Technology Journalist

Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal, and her writing has appeared in various news media outlets, including Scientific American, Newsday, and the Associated Press. For several years, she was the online editor at Brandweek and later Adweek, where she followed the world of advertising. Having earned the nickname of "gadget girl," she is excited to be writing about technology again for InformationWeek, where she worked in the past as an associate editor covering the mobile and wireless space. She now writes about the federal government and NASA’s space missions on occasion.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights