Orange has said that a deal with location-based services provider Webraska will open up big opportunities, but analysts have warned that business services are still a while away.
The three and a half year deal means that Orange's 30 million European customers will have access to location and navigation services from early next year.
Consumer services accessed via the web, Wap, SMS or advanced messaging services will include the ability to find the closest cash machine based on a user's location, and a 'Buddy Finder' which allows subscribers to be located, or to locate friends and colleagues nearby.
Although the initial focus of the deal is consumer oriented, with products to be launched in early 2003, Orange has indicated that services aimed specifically at the business market are also being developed.
Michel Gaudreau, director of strategy at the telco's Orangeworld portal, explained that location-based services would become a core element of Orange products in the future.
"There will be more vertical opportunities in the business arena to include mapping and tracking management suites," he said.
"This is a massive opportunity for development partners in the future. The Webraska platform will give a standard series of tools for any partner to develop applications."
Gaudreau maintained that standalone applications would drive new revenues as well as generate additional demand for existing Orange services.
Jonathan Klinger, marketing director at Webraska, said that of the one million people who had trialled location-based services across Europe, between 10 and 20 per cent had signed up.
"Most carriers are looking to increase wireless data services revenues from around 10 to 20 per cent over the next three to five years, and location-based services should account for at least 10 to 15 per cent of that uplift," he said.
But Klinger admitted that better devices and improved content would be the key to widespread adoption, and warned that they were around a year away.
"If you can get these sorts of figures based on the relatively crummy technology available today, it bodes well for the future," he said.
Jeremy Green, principal wireless analyst at Ovum, suggested that predictions about significant take-up of location-based services had so far failed to materialise.
"Success has been equivocal to say the least," he said. "It's a case of waiting to see what they roll out. I don't think there's a killer application; they're nice to have accompaniments but there's no main meal to value added data services."
Swedish telecoms operator Telia already offers 10 location-based services which it says generate additional revenues of €3 to €5 per customer per month, according to Green.
"There are some obvious business applications, for example remote workforce management," he said. "That's an obvious area for third-party providers. But the trouble is that it's a long, slow sales cycle into business customers."
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