By Nicole Manktelow
August 20 2002
Geophysicist Alex McNaught has spent years locating things for others - making maps for mining companies, charting software solutions and most recently designing a unique directory service for mobile phones.
Now all the developer from Berrima, in southern New South Wales, needs to find is an inroad to Australia's mobile networks. But there are no ready-made maps for that in his system.
FindMap is a suite of products beyond the average directory, allowing communication from person to person, handset to handset. If looking for a bar or club, for example, subscribers would search FindMap for a suitable listing, then via the system notify a friend who could view the same entry automatically.
"It's one thing to look at maps, it's another to share the information," McNaught says. "When you find a good listing you can send this to someone else. The link is sent to the other person's menu. It's the next logical step for directions."
Of course, just finding and developing a concept rarely ensures success. In the world of mobile data services, half the battle is convincing a carrier to adopt a service. "We have a couple of discussions going at the moment," McNaught says.
Without a carrier deal, McNaught has little chance of getting his directory tools on to the screens of mobile users.
"There are two possible business models," he says. "The first and most immediate one is to reach a licence agreement with the carrier. They already have the billing arrangement with the customer. The second way to earn revenue, when the service is established, is to sell bold listings or graphics within the search order.
"Obviously, when people are searching for particular shops or services, the listing needs to be complete but within a complete list there are ways to highlight some listings.
"Either way, we still need carriers to kick off the process."
Optus and Vodafone are two key providers most likely to be interested in such a product. These are the mobile networks without a directory partner, unlike Telstra, which may be more inclined to turn to its wholly owned Pacific Access subsidiary, which publishes the White Pages, Yellow Pages and Whereis location-finding website.
Even without a carrier, two tourism organisations - one in Sydney and another in Melbourne - have committed to using FindMap if it becomes available.
"Stage three would be getting handsets in the hands of visitors in hotels . . ." McNaught says. "It would complete the loop."
McNaught hopes these and other interested customers will demonstrate potential revenues and tempt carriers to take the plunge.
FindMap can be tailored for a range of mobile devices.
"Our application does not know what type of network is using it. It would work with GSM phones or GPRS hand sets, subject to operator agreement," McNaught says.
It could be reserved as an additional benefit for subscribers of Australia's newest GPRS networks.
Another aspect of the system is its ability to provide mobile users with helpful directions based on their current location in order to find venues, restaurants or shops. McNaught believes phrases such as "Around the corner" and "Western side of Darling Harbour" are more helpful, particularly to pedestrians, than simply providing street addresses.
"We ran a trial in the Philippines with an operator, a positioning system and incorporated third-party content with our system. The trial used landmark-based descriptions, which are preferred in the Philippines," McNaught says.
In Australia, a service will most likely start off with map data for Sydney and Melbourne, with other capitals following.
The quality of the mapping information is essential - and it cannot always be bought easily, adds McNaught.
"We've bought information in the past and discovered it was a hit-and-miss affair.
"What it doesn't have for us is the high level of verification - is the shop still there?
"In areas of high pedestrian traffic, shopping areas such as Chatswood, for example, we would want to make sure that all premises are covered.