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, but now it’s just one more feature onboard their fleet (in the January catalog, KDDI showed six of 11 handsets as having GPS capability). Also: Looks like Japan’s WLAN market – in addition to being highly fragmented – is one of the cheapest.
Darren Coleman, with Orange PCS (UK), said in an email last week 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, use Qualcomm’s GPS chip in their navi service, so accuracy is not an issue (although coverage inside buildings and time to connect to the satellites can cause frustrations). 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, do 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 – but 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, but 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.
On another topic, London-based Broad Group (www.broad-group.com) put out a release last month stating that pricing for public access wireless LANs reveals sharp divergences in approach between the US, Asia, and Europe.
The release referred to a new Broad Group report, “Pricing and Marketing Wireless Hotspots,” which assessed and interpreted marketing and pricing strategies across Europe, North America and Asia Pacific, covering fifty players in 21 countries, and over one hundred and thirty pricing schemes.
I contacted Philip Low at the Broad Group, who kindly provided several extracts from the report. Surprise! Surprise! Europe was found to be the most expensive market for WLAN access, while Japan was one of the cheapest.
The report cites the following figures (prices in USD at February rates and are exclusive of tax) for a one-month subscription (conditions apply to all prices):
|AT&T||Go Port US||69.99|
|Surf & Sip||US||30.00|
GLOBAL AVERAGE = 41.50
JAPAN AVERAGE = 14.42
In the press release, Philip wrote that Europe is the most expensive region in the world for public access wireless LANs. Monthly subscription pricing schemes are offered by 37% of service providers surveyed in the report, with European prices for this category averaging US$62 per month, compared to US$39 in the US, US$16 in Asia and US$41 globally. The most popular scheme – 24 hour pricing – offered by almost 40% of all service providers covered, and predominantly European, averages US$14.39.
Looks like Japan’s WLAN market – in addition to being highly fragmented (see Wireless Notes below) – is one of the cheapest. Combine this with cheap fixed-line access via DSL and cable (I pay 4100 yen per month to cable provider City Telecom Kanagawa), and Japan remains the coolest and lowest-cost place on Earth from which to surf the Web.
Access the Broad Group and their reports here.