Have you read PART 1? I’ll strongly recommend reading part 1 first.
As mentioned in part 1 the main components in the LBS Value Chain are: the location based service provider or developer (LBS APP), the data carrier (a cellular provider like T-Mobile, AT&T, etc), and the customer.
As Part 3 will talk about Web 2.0 strategies for Location Based Services and particularly for Location Based Social Networking, we need to completely understand every piece of the puzzle. Otherwise your model will be leaking money (pouring in some cases). Moreover understanding the players and trends will allow you to craft long term solid strategies.
A more comprehensive value chain shall include:
Consider: those companies were acquired recently by Nokia and TomTom.
Ask: How can they affect your business by controlling the LBS market. Can your application change the map provider easily? Do they cover all the areas you plan to service? Can you grow to other markets (internationally)? Does your international strategy fit your provider’s existing maps? What are their plans of expansion? How are you getting charged? What layers of information are included in that charge? The list of questions doesn’t end here and is closely related on the type of service you are planning to offer.
MAP INTERFACES: If you want to use map providers like Navteq and TeleAtlas you will need to pay a premium price to companies that provide interfaces to those maps – such as Autodesk, Decarta, etc. Your applications can also be based on Google maps (TeleAtlas data) or Microsoft maps (Navteq data) API’s.
Consider: 1) This factor is almost unavoidable and in some cases the API selection will link you to a specific map provider. 2) While is true you can freely use Google and Microsoft interfaces, bear in mind you will need to pay them for the use of the maps when you start making money.
Ask: What is the price structure? Is the payment per map? Are you getting charged for each customer you serve? (oh yes, you do). Can your API support other map providers? Can you add your own maps? How much will cost to add specific regions? Do the charges include Points of Interest? Does the price include point to point routing capabilities? Can you provide PSAP information? What platforms do you support? How will you display information in different types of cellular phones?
Remember that once your development is committed to one of these platforms, it will be expensive to migrate to other. Again I strongly recommend checking their pricing structure. Most start for free but you will “pay the price” later.
M2M PROVIDER: In most cell phone based services, the communication costs are paid by the customer (SMS or IP-Data). If your service is based in a specific device (like a pet tracker) you will need to include a cellular operator or aggregator to fulfill the mobile communication. You will probably use a GSM provider and your device will include a SIM Card. Those carriers are known as Machine to Machine providers (M2M). Today the M is interpreted in many ways – Man-to-Machine, Machine-to-Man, Machine-to-Mobile, Mobile-to-Mobile, Mobile-to-Machine, etc. Usually M2M providers are small mobile operators with roaming agreements and/or mobile resellers/aggregators with services provided in the background by companies like AT&T, Telefonica, T-Mobile, Verizon, Vodafone, etc (Big Carriers).
Companies that fall in the M2M category are Jasper Wireless, Kore Telematics, Wyless and many others. As these companies usually buy large quantity of network capacity, or have roaming agreements, the solution you will get is usually better, more focused and cheaper than approaching directly the Big Carriers. Moreover, many Big Carriers require particular certifications, and with these M2M providers, the process is usually transparent.
Consider: 1) Choosing a M2M provider is a long term commitment. Imagine you have thousands of devices in the market and you need to recall them to change their SIM card (I don’t think so…) 2) You can use SMS and/or Data transmissions (TCP / UDP). Each one has pros and cons. Just remember to use the * symbol in excel you will be amazed with the numbers. For example, if your model is based on SMS (let’s say $0.08 per SMS), and you have just 5000 units, reporting every 5 minutes half day; your annually bill will be more than $20,000,000 (yes, twenty million). Is your projected income covering that?
Ask: What is the price structure? Do you have a minimum volume commitment? Can data (or SMS) be pulled? If using data, what is the rounding per session? Do you provide VPN services? Will your device have a fixed IP address? Do you have an activation portal/API? Do you charge activation fees? If SMS, do you provide SMPP gateway services? Do Mobile Originated and Mobile Terminated messages have different prices?What type of certification do you require (FCC, PTCRB, EC, etc)? Does your service require non standard certifications (particular of a Big Carrier?) Do you provide roaming? How much will you pay for roaming? Where do you roam? Can you permanently roam?
GPS ENABLED DEVICE: Now you need to write the application. If your service is not installed in a cellular phone, you will need to provide your customers with a device with GPS and mobile communications capabilities i.e. most Personal Locator Devices (PLD). This is a topic by itself and I’ll devote a different post for it.
Bottom Line: The sum of all those expenses + YOUR PROFIT is what the customer usually will pay for some Value Service. This is your Average Revenue Per Unit (ARPU) or your Customer Acquisition Cost depending on the business model you choose (see part 1). If your customers are reluctant to pay your fees, or your investors consider the burning cost and risks associated too high, most probably you have done something wrong along the way.
Having almost all the components clear, I’ll elaborate on part 3 on Location Based Services business models based on Web 2.0 strategies particularly free Location Based Social Networking and their specific value chain.
TO THE READER: as my list of considerations and questions is limited for readability I’ll appreciate your comments, particularly on:
What else would you recommend to consider for each category?
What else would you recommend to ask to the providers in each category?
Thank you again!