LBS saves money, makes money – but still maturing  "We’re not lost. We’re locationally challenged." – John M. Ford, author According to Chris Langdon, VP, wireless solutions at Telus Mobility, that Ford quote isn’t just cynical; it’s also timely. A few years ago, location-based services (LBSes) were supposed to make it easy for companies to incorporate mobile phones into their marketing plans, but the technology never really took off. Now, however, some say it’s ready for prime time. Langdon and others discussed LBS at a Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) conference in May. Consider this a sort of backgrounder – information you could use should the boss come calling for ideas to boost the business’s marketing efforts, or to save money on fieldwork operations. What Went Wrong?LBS was meant to link local services to mobile phones, considering the user’s location to ensure that information is useful. Let’s say a user visiting a new city wanted to find the closest sushi restaurant. With an accommodating LBS service on the user’s cell phone, he’d be able to query the device for directions. The phone would respond with a map or text-based indicators of which streets to take. A more complicated LBS scenario might provide greater context – pointing out, for example, that one restaurant won a five-star rating from a noted restaurant critic, or another eatery has a lunch deal on today. LBS would help the user decide where to go, and it would help businesses attract customers.  But certain obstacles kept LBS from succeeding. One of the biggest bugbears must have been the end points: mobile phones lacked colour screens, so maps were difficult to view. As well, mobile phone networks weren’t all that speedy, so users would spend minutes researching questions perhaps more quickly answered by any hotel concierge. And networks weren’t adept at pinpointing user locations, so users wouldn’t necessarily receive the best suggestions. How things have changed. "You’re seeing handsets launch with colour screens, so maps are readable," Langdon said. As well, more handsets have global positioning system (GPS) technology built in, so more users can access LBS. Wireless networks provide better data rates than ever, supplying accurate user-location information within metres. And cell phone usage is on the rise. According to a Decima Research Inc. study, 64% of Canadians have access to at least one cell phone in the home. That’s a 20% improvement in cell phone penetration compared with the year 2000. "A lot of things are coming together," Langdon noted, pointing out that mobile application developers in both Java and .Net are starting to incorporate LBS into their products, and the cost of mapping data is coming down. IT analysis firm Gartner Inc. said in its 2005 technology hype-cycle report that location-aware applications were exiting the "trough of disillusionment" and entering the "slope of enlightenment." Both categories come after the "peak of inflated expectations," where LBS likely stood a few years ago. Still, LBS faces problems as it matures. LBS Challenges"Inter-carrier roaming standards are still a gap," Langdon said. A user roaming from one network onto another might lose her LBS connectivity. "There are a lot of proprietary solutions" to the roaming issue, he noted. "We need to see that embedded into the standards process."  Another challenge: privacy concerns. Some people equate LBS to carriers spying on customers, but Langdon seemed to think this is a shrinking worry. Perhaps the best business case for LBS isn’t marketing but fieldwork management. Dispatch, directions and route optimization benefit from LBS, and since mobile devices cost less now than they did in the past, it’s relatively inexpensive for businesses to arm their truck drivers with cell phones and LBS for improved fieldwork efficiency. Vince Poloniato, president of Solutions into Motion (SiM) in Hamilton ON, provided a case study of a successful LBS implementation. SiM is the firm behind Trackem, an asset- and vehicle-location service. Poloniato said one of SiM’s customers, which uses seven trucks in its fuel-heating operation, saved $100,000 in a year thanks to asset tracking. The client saved six hours per truck per month on improved log-book keeping, 3.5 hours improving dispatch and sending the closest truck to the job, and 2.5 hours letting truck drivers take their rigs home at night so they don’t have to travel all the way back to the office in the morning to start their workdays. Employees as well as companies benefit, Poloniato said. If the drivers are paid by the job, for instance, they appreciate being sent to the closest task instead of being sent across town. The more time they spend on the job – the less time they spend driving – the more money they make. Nick Quain, president of CellWand Communications in Toronto, said his company is working on an app called Pound Home, which allows users to get information from the national real estate Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Any data about a house can be called up – even if the user knows nothing more about the abode than the fact that its front lawn sports a "for sale" sign and it’s on the unknown street he happens to be driving down. "In essence we’re providing the agents with more qualified leads," Quain said. But who would pay for this service? The agents? Carriers? Users? Quain didn’t say. Perhaps it’s too soon: Pound Home is only in beta release. But the question is one of many surrounding LBS, even as it climbs Gartner’s slope of enlightenment. Companies considering LBS initiatives must address that issue before jumping in, lest their own LBS undertakings leave them not just locationally challenged but utterly lost.Don’t Call It ‘M-Commerce’Panellists did all they could at the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) conference in May to avoid the "M" word: m-commerce. Although once favoured as a way to separate mobile-phone commerce from wireline e-commerce, the phrase has fallen out of fashion, perhaps because m-commerce never lived up to its hype. Call it what you will, some software companies continue to build on the m-commerce theme. A few showcased their products at the CTWA conference. Jambo Mobile Solutions Inc. (www.jambomobile.com) makes integrated-messaging systems that cross various media platforms, including broadcasting and mobile text messaging. According to Derek Colfer, the firm’s managing director, strategy, Jambo helped Intrawest Corp. improve its profile via this multimedia modus operandi. Intrawest runs a number of recreation facilities, including ski hills Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado and Blue Mountain Ski Resort north of Toronto. The company sought a unique advertising campaign to attract more customers. Jambo and Intrawest devised a marketing plan that included radio ads and mobile text messaging. The ads invited listeners to use their phones and text "win" to the short code "myblue" to enter contests for, say, a free weekend’s accommodation at Blue Mountain. That helped draw users in. Next, Intrawest and Jambo created an ongoing dialogue with users: text "snow" for snow conditions on the hill, and show this text message at the Blue Mountain concession counter for a free beverage. According to Colfer, Intrawest’s redemption rate on these mobile coupons hit 52%, and the company has extended the program for another year thanks to the initial success. Colfer said one of the pitfalls of such marketing endeavours is the need for speed. Businesses have just a couple of months to transform initial contact into ongoing dialogues. As well, "unless you make an application that’s easy to use, the user will drop out," he said. Diversinet Corp. (www.diversinet.com) displayed its MobiSecure platform, which integrates mobile phones into digital protection routines. Wally Kowal, Diversinet’s VP of marketing, explained its functioning: let’s say a user arrives at his bank’s ATM. As always, he puts his card into the machine and enters his PIN. With MobiSecure, however, the machine next asks the user for a "one-time password." He pushes a button on his mobile phone, and the phone generates the one-time password. The user enters that password into the ATM and finally accesses his bank account. Kowal said enterprises could use this additional layer of protection for remote corporate-network access, too. MobiSecure may be more complicated than single password systems, but Diversinet seems to think people will get used to it, especially as digital theft increases. Companies will ask customers and workers to carry hardware tokens that generate one-time passwords; MobiSecure may be one way for users to avoid having a kind of token necklace for all of the systems they have to access. "What we’re looking at here is a small change in behaviour," Kowal said. "The payback in extra security is more than worth it."