Indian GIS company MapMyIndia has launched a maps and location service with telecom operator Aircel, called PocketFinder. It’s a white labeled service for Aircel which allows users access to maps, points-of-interest like ATM’s, Cafe’s and restaurants, and more interestingly, “friend-finder” services and location specific deals. The subscription based service, priced at Rs. 10 per month (with data charges extra) is available as an application, on USSD, WAP and SMS, and it requires GPRS and/or 3G to work. Alternatively, of course, there’s Google Maps, which is free (albeit, also with data charges).

Friend Finder

The service has a Friend Finder application (SMS in the format <10 digit mobile number of friend> to 54654), similar to the Buddy Finder service which Airtel piloted over a year ago, which allows users to permit specific Aircel users to find them. In the application, one can get directions to the friend, but not on WAP. If the phone is switched off or not in network coverage, then the last known location is displayed. Chhavi Gupta, AVP at MapMyIndia, told MediaNama that it’s a little clumsy to draw on WAP. Gupta declined to comment on how much MapMyIndia has invested in this initiative, but said that they’re getting a revenue share on the subscription fees.

It’s worth noting that the service works only with Aircel users, and is not carrier-independent, which limits the functionality of the Friend Finder service. Gupta doesn’t expect a carrier-independent service to be possible in the short run. “We aspire to do that, but the LBS ecosystem is complex. It won’t happen like the “press star to copy” service with ringtones.” MapMyIndia currently provides maps data to MTNL, Aircel, Virgin, Tata Indicom, MTS, either directly or through other application providers.

Deals/Offers

Gupta says that Aircel and MapMyIndia have just started working with a few partners to offer deals on PocketFinder, where they will surface sales in nearby locations initially. “The offers is not the main functionality of the service right now, but we’ll build it up with partners, from both us and Aircel”. Gupta feels that surfacing sales is hard to monetize, but it will help build stickiness; the monetization will come from couponing. Note that Bangalore based Taazza surfaces location specific deals and news, using Google Maps.

PocketFinder can extend the deals functionality to a pull based couponing service, which provides location sensitive and category specific deals to users. They can surface deals both within the application, as well as on WAP, say as a footer to Restaurant Search. A question remains – why hasn’t Google Maps launched deals yet?

Comparison with Google Maps

– Accuracy: Gupta says that the service is GPS independent, and uses cell ID data for identifying a users location. Aircel’s website suggests that the accuracy is between 400 to 500 meters, but Gupta says that with repeaters, it can be up to 150 meters, and in some areas it can go up to 1 KM. That kind of a variance has also been seen in Google Maps, though it has improved.

MediaNama readers might recall that the Indian government has asked telecom service providers to improve accuracy. Gupta says that it’s not feasible to provide location information for 50 metres in one shot, but “it will require iterations from telecom service providers, from service providers like us, and from the government. Whatever is the network based location, it will improve the location awareness for all of these applications.

– Access: Gupta says that given that the application uses cell ID, it is applicable to phones that cost less than Rs. 7000, the cheapest phone with GPS, a limitation which Google Maps face. Additionally, location based services in Aircel Pocket Finder are available on WAP, USSD and SMS as well

– Always on: Unlike Google Maps, the friend locator works even if a user doesn’t have the application on, because it is Cell ID based triangulation, and doesn’t depend on GPS. This has both pluses and minuses: for locating her child, a mother might want it to be always-on, but there are instances when you don’t want to give access.

More Details

Related:
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– Airtel Pilots Location Based Buddy Finder Service; Review & Suggestions