8 years since commercial start of location based services (LBS) in Japan in July 2001

It will soon be 8 years since DoCoMo started commercial location based services (LBS) for mobile phones in Japan in July 2001. During these 8 years, Japan’s mobile LBS industry has grown and a range of differentiated mobile LBS services has emerged – indicative of how the LBS industry might develop in other countries in the next few years (Read our LBS-FAQ here, and our mobile LBS report here).

NOKIA’s recent acquisition of Navteq for US$ 8.1 Billion has drawn much attention to LBS for mobile phones.

The world’s first commercial location based service (LBS) for mobile phones – “i-Area” – was rolled out by DoCoMo in Japan in July 2001 – eight years ago! – is still going strong, and for some time also includes location dependent mobile search: you type “ramen” into the search box and back comes a list of ramen noodle restaurants for the neighborhood near you. “i-Area” is a pre-GPS service – no GPS is necessary. Like so much about Japan’s mobile internet eco-system, i-Area has a non-obvious complex business model fine-tuned over 8 years now.

GPS came later – KDDI introduced the first GPS phone in December 2001 – a little more than seven years ago – and today about 1/2 of all mobile phones have GPS in Japan. Japan’s Government requires all cellphones to have GPS built in. Therefore, within a few years, as users replace their older phones, 100% of Japan’s cellphones will have GPS, giving a boost to the mobile LBS industry.

Interesting companies? An undisputed leader is Navitime – offering “total navigation” to about 2 million subscribers – almost 2% of the population of Japan. Many people in Japan, including the author of this newsletter, cannot live without total navigation….

Bombarding subscribers with mobile discount coupons by SMS for shops in the neighborhood is often mentioned in western blogs about mobile LBS. I have not yet received a single one during the last 8 years of mobile LBS in Japan – although these do exist if you want them.

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GPS Mobile

GPS required for mobile phones in Japan from April 2007

Japan’s Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry (Soumusho) is working to change regulations so that GPS is required on Japan’s mobile phones from April 2007.

This move has been expected for some time, but apparently details will be announced later in 2005. Nikkei reports that the accuracy of the location determination should be on the order of 150 meters.

Japan’s police receive about 9 million emergency calls per year, and Nikkei reports that about 1/2 of these are from mobile phones. For emergency calls from fixed line phones the precise location is communicated directly to the police and emergency service operators, however for mobile phones this is not the case, and the operators need to rely on the information given by the (often distressed) caller.

The regulations will require for the mobile operators to communicate the location of emergency callers to the Police and Fire Service emergency center operators.

Already for sometime KDDI sells almost all mobile phones with chips with built-in GPS (from Qualcomm), while all operators in Japan have developed a dense array of location based services which are deeply embedded in many mobile internet services. Today about 20% of mobile phones in Japan have GPS built-in, and we expect this ratio to increase to close to 100% around 2008-2010 (for more information consult our report on location based mobile services in Japan).

Copyright·©1997-2013 ·Eurotechnology Japan KK·All Rights Reserved·

GPS Mobile

Location based services in Japan

About 20% of mobile phones have GPS in Japan, and both KDDI and DoCoMo are integrating location based services into their mobile internet services EZweb and i-Mode. We completed a report on location based services in Japan Eurotechnology Report on location based services and mapping in Japan.

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