With location-based services remaining largely untapped in Asia Pacific, mobile operators in the region are increasingly looking at different ways to tap the opportunities.
In Australia, Vodafone in conjunction with local mapping company Yapp Mobile, a global position system-based navigation service, has launched Vodafone Compass for its BlackBerry users.

Unlike traditional GPS services available in the market, which come with pre-loaded maps, Vodafone Compass users do not have to periodically upgrade their mapping database as maps are sent directly to the BlackBerry device over the airwaves and updated automatically on a regular basis to reflect any changes on the ground, such as road closures. This allows Vodafone Compass users - who pay either A$2.50 ($2.20) per day, A$8 ($6.80) per week or A$79 ($68) per month for the service - to download mapping data significant to a current journey.

Another compelling feature, according to Marc Einstein, senior industry analyst for wireless at Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific, is that Vodafone synchronizes the navigation service with the government databases of all the gasoline prices in the country. For users this means that they not only can find the closest gas station along the route but can also search for the cheapest petrol in the area.
In addition, they can also be automatically directed to the closest paid parking facilities if they are heading to an inner-city destination.

Although Vodafone Australia would not disclose the subscriber numbers using the service, Einstein said the operator claims that this is one of its most popular services among enterprise users.

"There are many LBS services that do these kinds of things, but this service provides a win-win situation for both Vodafone and its users, especially given the fact that gasoline prices are so expensive," he said.

While LBS is still in its early stage in most of Asia Pacific and operators are initially going after the high-end segment, Einstein suggests that the service is expected to show promising growth in the coming years, with the wider availability of mobile phones with built-in, precise location-sensing capabilities as well as the hefty investment in the navigation space from heavyweights such as Nokia and Google.

LBS will eventually move from the enterprise to mass consumers, and this is already happening in Japan and Korea - the most developed LBS markets in the region due to the advanced data market, high penetration of GPS-enabled handsets and the availability of reasonable LBS plans with flat rates in both markets, he said.

According to Frost & Sullivan, revenues for mobile LBS in Asia Pacific will grow from $486 million in 2008 to $2.9 billion in 2013.

Gartner, meanwhile, predicts that global mobile LBS subscribers will rise from 16 million in 2007 to 43.2 million in 2008 and hit 300 million in 2011, with revenue jumping from $485.1 million in 2007 to $1.3 billion in 2008, topping $8 billion in 2011.