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Cell-based location services on target and Japan has cheapest WLAN.

Darren Coleman, with Orange PCS (UK), said in an email in March that he was surprised to learn that J-Phone's new location service, Loco Guide, uses cell ID for location--and not GPS (or some other, more accurate, technology). "Do you think there is any specific reason why J Phone have not looked to enhance their location data accuracy? Are people happy enough with cell-ID-based accuracy as long as the quality of the mapping is good enough?" he asked.

Basically, yes--it appears that the non-GPS location services here (operated by NTT DoCoMo and J-Phone) work just fine with cell-based accuracy--it's sufficient for consumer-focused, mass-market applications such as coupons, restaurants, nearest station or pub, etc.

KDDI, of course, uses Qualcomm's GPS chip ha their navi service, so accuracy is not an issue (although coverage inside buildings and time to connect to the satellites can cause frustration). Overall, all the mass-market navigation services here get lots of usage, so I think people are happy enough with them.

Note that DoCoMo, for example, does offer GPS-based terminals for fleet applications. Darren also queried whether Japanese operators sell handsets on the back of specific services--or are the GPS-based or cell-based location services marketed as a "generic part of the latest handsets?" He points out that, in Europe, most mobile players have invested in a variety of middleware platforms and location servers, but the next strategic decision is to improve accuracy--and they can't define a clear business case for doing so.

I told him that so far, Japanese carriers haven't really pushed location services as stand-alone products; they're sold as "part of" a handset, and there are no handsets that are sold only as, or primarily for, navi-service capabilities.

Sure, KDDI did do a big marketing push when their first GPS-enabled keitai hit the market in December 2001, hut now it's just one more feature onboard their fleet (in the January catalog, KDDI showed six of 11 handsets as having GPS capability).

DoCoMo does sell one special device for tracking kids, elderly, and--I guess--errant spouses. The service is called: "Ima-Doco?" There are about 60,000 subscribers, and it works based on PHS, the cells of which are much smaller than on the mainline cellular network, so the accuracy is pretty good.

Darren finished his mail asking, "For LBS in general, are services picking up in Japan?"

Again, basically, yes. Location-based services are very popular and well-used. There are at least 80 content services on i-mode, EZweb, and J-Sky that use position data (games, maps, communication services, etc.), and there will be more on BREW. All in all, location services are popular and evidently--profitable.
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Title Annotation:Wireless Local Area Network
Author:Scuka, Daniel
Publication:Japan Inc.
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:May 1, 2003
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