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Nokia To Take Mapping Service Online

Much of the information on Nokia's mapping service is from mapmaker Navteq, which Nokia announced in October it planned to acquire for $8.1 billion.
Nokia on Monday said it would add to its Ovi Web portal at the end of the summer a mapping service that synchronizes with the company's smartphones.

Michael Halbherr, VP of Nokia's location-based services, also told InformationWeek that the company would launch at the end of May version 2.0 of Nokia Maps, a subscription service available on the company's advanced cellular phones.

Much of the information on Nokia's mapping service is from mapmaker Navteq, which Nokia announced in October it planned to acquire for $8.1 billion. The deal needs antitrust clearance from the European Commission, which is expected to issue a decision by August. Navteq and rival Tele Atlas account for most of the global market for digital maps.

Nokia remains confident the deal will be approved. "It's a discussion that's ongoing and at the end of the day, we should be able to show there's no need for concern," Halbherr said.

In diving into the digital maps market, Nokia is taking on companies like Google and Yahoo, which offer Internet-based mobile mapping services for cell phones, as well as personal navigation device makers like Garmin, TomTom International, and Mio Technology. Nokia expects to sell 35 million GPS-equipped phones this year.

Nokia sells handsets with multimedia functions, such as music and video. The company this year launched a music store on its Ovi portal, which also enables Nokia customers to share music and video.

But location-based services probably have the largest revenue potential because they could one day be used as an advertising channel or as means of sharing revenue with businesses that connect to Nokia customers through the phone maker. "This can be a bridge between the real and virtual world," Halbherr said of Nokia's upcoming Ovi service.

That bridge consists of people going to the portal to plan a route, whether it's by car or on foot, and then have it automatically downloaded to the Nokia phone when it's connected to the Internet. People with Nokia GPS phones can also track their travels and then upload those routes to the portal. Routes can also be saved and shared with friends on Ovi.

The ability to get a map for walking routes, not just street maps, is new to version 2.0 of Nokia Maps and is being provided through Navteq, Halbherr said. Also new to the upgrade is information on traffic conditions. Nokia has also improved the search function.

Nokia plans to roll out version 2.0 globally, as the mapping information becomes available in each region. Nokia Maps requires subscribers to first buy the maps database, and then pay a subscription fee for updates three times a year. The initial cost varies by region, but in Europe it's priced at about 150 euros, or $233.

Nokia's strategy with its mapping service is not to take customers away from Google and Yahoo, but to give the company's mobile phone customers no reason to use those services, Halbherr said. "This is not about trying to take share."

Among Nokia's biggest challengers in the smartphone market is the Apple iPhone. Apple expects to sell at least 10 million iPhones this year. The device competes with Nokia's N95 phone and the upcoming N96.

Despite being the world's largest mobile-phone maker, Nokia has had trouble in North America. In announcing first-quarter earnings this year, the company acknowledged that it lost market share again in the United States and Canada. Over the last two years, Nokia's North American market share has plunged from 20% to 7%, according to Strategy Analytics.

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