Location-based services (LBS) are set to break into the mainstream of South Africaâ€™s mobile market, with more than half of consumers expressing interest in using these services in the near future.
This reflects a growing understanding of the benefits of LBS in South Africa, as well as more confidence in the privacy and security aspects of these applications, says Jacques Swanepoel MD of Cellfind, a subsidiary of the JSE-listed Blue Label Telecoms Group.
Commenting on recent TNS research that found that there is a growing appetite for LBS among mobile subscribers worldwide including South Africa, Swanepoel says that the technology is gaining traction for navigation, personal safety and entertainment applications.
The TNS research indicates that about 9% of South Africans are using LBS services, however, more than half (53%) are interested in being tracked via LBS in the future. TNS says that 60% of the consumers in the global research sample who donâ€™t yet use LBS would like to start using it.
Swanepoel says:Â â€œThe findings clearly show that LBS will experience a surge in use within the next few years.Â This indicates that users are becoming more comfortable with being tracked via LBS and that they are beginning to understand what LBS has to offer.
â€œHandset vendors are committing to LBS offerings by integrating GPS chipsets into more of their handset models. This will encourage LBS infrastructure investors to acquire cost-effective GPS solutions to add to their current network based services.â€
According to TNS, LBS is becoming popular in the international market for use with navigation, as well as social and entertainment applications, though there is a great deal of regional variation in the apps users are interested in.Â Consumers worldwide are using LBS to find friends through tools such as FourSquare and Facebook Check In, as well as to find restaurants and entertainment venues or check public transport schedules. Marketers are helping to drive LBS, with stores, hotels, restaurants and brands by rewarding consumers with special offers, loyalty points or vouchers for sharing their location.
In the local market, Swanepoel expects growth from new service revenue streams such as contacting (locating friends and location sharing), safety (emergency dispatch and warning), tracking (asset management) and marketing (advertising and information finding).
Swanepoel says that network-based location solutions dominate the market. He believes that improvements to phones and network capabilities, along with more accurate location technologies will enhance the privacy and security of LBS solutions, addressing concerns that many users have about the technology.
There is plenty of action in the location-based space at the moment, with competition accelerating, says Swanepoel. Mobile operators are bringing LBS applications to the market that leverage off against their regulated emergency investments, while many application developers are coming to market with new LBS offerings.
Content providers such as Google, Yahoo and AOL are all continuously enhancing existing location services and adding new ones to the mix, while handset vendors are releasing midrange and high end cell phones with GPS or A-GPS. These developments will drive the LBS market into the future.