Given the changes in the location based services / Geographical Information Systems environment, an unconfirmed interest from Japanese map publisher Zenrin to buy 24% stake for $30 million in MapMyIndia, as reported by The Economic Times today, doesn’t come as a major surprise to us. MapMyIndia, backed by Qualcomm Ventures, KPCB, Sherpalo and Nexus India Capital, has been among the most aggressive among the GIS companies in India, despite competition from Nokia owned Navteq, Google Maps, Sequoia Capital backed SatNav, and others like Telenity. Reliance Entertainment was working on BigMaps, but that ambitious project appears to have been shelved. Here’s what has changed in the GIS space in the recent past, and which points towards an ongoing transformation in the LBS space over the last year or so:
– Significant regulatory changes that are pushing for location accuracy: The Indian government wants location accuracy to be brought down to 50 meters in India: a new telecom policy mandates the same, since monitoring the whereabouts of mobile phone subscribers is important for the Home Ministry. A regulatory push is forcing telecom operators to improve location accuracy, which in turn, creates a base for launching location based services by entities like MapMyIndia, NavTeq and SatNav. (ED: We’ll have more from a Government of India notification later today)
– Telecom Operators launch location based services: given that telecom operators have to increase location sharpness, many have already begun experimenting with LBS. Airtel experimented with BuddyFinder, Aircel launched the PocketFinder service, Tata Teleservices has launched location based enterprise services, while Tata Docomo has launched Route Finder.
– Improvement In GIS Data: Google has been busy, adding transit information for multiple cities and Street View (now on hold), while MapMyIndia has added information on house numbers for 18 cities, directions in Indic languages, and is piloting traffic data, and SatNav is mapping store locations. BigMaps had 3D imagery for buildings on its maps, but that is now history.
All of this doesn’t mean that there will be a significant uptake in GIS based services from consumers, but there is core location infrastructure being put into place. One change we’ve noticed with MapMyIndia is that over the last year and a half, it has tied up with telecom operators for providing location based value added services, probably the only way to monetize services in India at present, despite the risk that the end customers belong to the telecom operator, not the company. And there is the threat of the spread of Android in India, which will push the usage of Google Maps over other services. Interesting times, these.