Geo-location – The what of the where is it begins to be the next apps wave in Africa

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 Lost your way in Accra or Abidjan? Want to know where your friends are? Need to track your truck fleet or disease outbreaks? A wave of recent announcements look set to be come the first signs of a growing apps wave (both personal and professional) that will begin to transform how certain things are done in Africa. No longer will directions include “go left at the flower seller” but GPS and maps may allow you to pinpoint your intended destination. Sylvain Beletre looks at the many geo-location applications that are just hitting the continent. 

Geolocation services are potentially a huge market which might include Government, corporates and individuals, whether tourists or locals. Thomas Lefort of IPergeo told us: “We have been surprised to see that GPS is already used across several African countries to optimise truck fleets. Rich interactive Maps are invaluable for governments, NGOs, universities and entrepreneurs, who can visualise, plan and market the areas and projects that they work on.” 

There are a wide range of areas where it could make life easier: it can help with things like security and protection, government stats, site management, agriculture, water, police/crime, financial audits, surveys, green issues, isolated/remote workers, tourism, games, finance, media, marketing, entertainment, social networking, music, sport, geo-disaster alerts, ad and e-commerce. 

These can be categorised into four broad areas: Consumer to Consumer (for example, Friend finder” which alerts subscribers when one of their friends in their buddy list is in close proximity to their location); Businesss to Consumer (Location-based ads that alert users to a service like a restaurant, bar or shop nearby); Business to Business (Fleet truck management – see below); Organisation to Organisation (for example, geo-based feedback about diseases to alert health organisations dealing with them). 

Smartphones are not yet widely used across Africa but iPhones are increasingly visible in the market. As Mocality CEO Stefan Magdalinski put it back in June 2010, “This is the Mocality reality: RIM, Android, Apple are 2% of usage.” However, there are countries where the percentage is larger and over 2-3 years the figure could be 5-10% depending on the country involved. 

Handset vendors like Nokia, Samsung and Motorola to name just a few have integrated GPS chips in their smartphones. Nokia continues investment in geolocation: it provides a map of South Africa and will include more African countries pretty soon. The inclusion of Google Maps Navigation into the iPhone, Motorola Droid, and Nokia's announcement of free Ovi Maps all suggest that these will be rapidly integrated into most mobile phones.


Global brands for GPS terminals are also available for sale in Africa, usually at the national airport: Garmin (the number one worldwide Personal Navigation Device - PND), TomTom (which bought TeleAtlas), Mio, etc. Since the start of July 2010, governments and enterprises can access TomTom's traffic database to enable precise infrastructural planning and road network analysis. 

Geolocation goes together with GPS. In actual fact, “GPS and GSM technologies are the most used network means to enable geolocation” explained Daniel Auclair, export director at Deverywhere. GPS is already available in several African countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Ivory Coast or Mauritius, with and sometimes without a Government license. But these two technologies don't work very well indoors, so other techniques are used, including the web (IP addresses), Bluetooth, UWB, RFID and Wi-Fi. Technically, Africa is almost ready for the jump and many already use GPS to drive around in large cities. After South Africa and Nigeria, Ivory Coast launched GPS in 1st October 2009. 

In terms of the underlying maps used, Google is very much the leading brand. As Jacqueline Rajuai, Geo Specialist - Google Kenya out it in the post announcing their arrival:” We’ve often been asked why we don’t have driving directions on Google Maps in Africa like we do elsewhere in the world. Well, the wait is over - we’ve recently launched driving directions for maps in Africa! So the next time you are in Ghana driving from Kotoka International Airport to Hotel Novotel in Victoria Borg, Accra or you just want to drive from Nairobi to Kampala, visit Google Maps and allow us to help you get to your destination”. 

However informed insiders in the region confirmed that Google maps in Africa are not 100% up to date, and local users have reported that GPS, where available, does not sometimes work due to out of date maps, bandwidth and satellite signals' or software issues. 

As Sharon Dahan, CTO of Cellcom Guinea told us: “The biggest problem with Location-Based Services in Africa is a lack of accurate maps, especially maps for rural areas. When we tried to launch our own LBS Service for fleet management, we found out the map’s prices are huge, not cost effective and not available to all country areas. Google Maps are not accurate enough for commercial use.” 

However, whatever the issues affecting geolocation services, there have been a number of recent deals done: 

* Orange has launched iPhones with geolocation applications in all its African subsidiaries. However, the Orange strategy is to offer a wide choice of devices to its customers: symbian, android, and various other Smartphones, some of them equipped with GPS applications. Orange beleives that geolocation services will help grow the African market in the coming years. On the enterprise side, Orange Business Services has launched geo-location / M2M services in a few of its African markets: for example in Madagascar (car location services) and in Sénégal . The operator has two fleet management offers available: Fleet Performance and Fleet Live. The former has more features and is available in Cameroon and the latter is available in Madagascar, Botswana, Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea 

* 0-one is supplier of rich digital maps in Africa and is in beta test for mobile GPS applications with two operators from Côte d'Ivoire. 0-one has also signed with Navteq and claims this makes it a leading supplier of mapping data in the Western African region. 

* Mobile operator Cellcom Guinea has set up a deal with a local fleet management company. It is using Cellcom SIM Cards only for GPRS Connectivity so that their GSM/GPRS/GPS modules installed in cars can transmit their GPS location to the main server. For this purpose, Cellcom has created special APN so that any GPRS access via this Module is directly routed to their main location server, and only to it. Cellcom is using the same solution to manage its own fleet. 

* OpenStreetMap creates and provides free geographic data such as street maps to anyone who wants them. The project was started to overcome legal or technical restrictions on the use of commercial maps. According to its creators,using “Crowdsourcing”, open street map has been used and tagged by Nairobi inhabitants. 

* Naspers-owned Mocality is currently built for Nairobi businesses that don’t have enough money (or value to gain) to advertise in a print directory. It claims to have produced an efficient crowd sourcing model which could be expanded across the African continent and even globally. Mocality sees its job as creating a free digital platform for end-users that makes it easy for them to find places and for business owners to promote and expand their businesses in Africa. 

* French publishing house Editions Laure Kane specialises in the making of maps of Africa and provide bespoke maps to companies. It has built a free interactive map of Senegal (a big tourism destination for the French) based on Google Map with 600 Points of Interest so far, including cultural sites. Points of interest (POI) are updated daily by the company and its users. Companies can add their presence from 38 Euros/year (25000 Fcfa). With more than 250,000 visits/month, they have managed to monetize their service and the company will soon expand to all francophone Africa. Le Guide de Routard, a popular French travel guide says it plans on offering iPhone apps for African cities soon. 

* From the beginning of 2010, Naviim has, in partnership with distributor Telecgsm and satellite navigation software house GeoLife, launched a GPS iPhone app available in Nigeria. It sells at about USD 85 and is also available for windows mobile and Nokia phones.

* French company Ipergeo will launch its enterprise geolocation solution this September after beta testing it in Mali, Togo, Burkina Faso and DRC. The solution will be used by African telcos and Governments. For consumers, there is IPergeo on the web and IPergeo Mobile (a piece of software to install to your Windows Mobile device) that allow you to keep in touch with where your friends are, among other things. 

* Géorisgroup and Deveryware Africa based in Dakar, Senegal are offering custom B2B solutions to enable companies to track vehicles, mobile staff and events (opening doors, temperature changes, etc.) so that they get alerted and keep track of movements and changes on their territories. These companies are targeting West and Central Africa and have already won a large number of contracts. Deverywhere’s multi-services platform - Geohub -  provides complex custom solutions using most telecoms technologies via a Saas (software as a service) applications. Key References include companies like Total and Bolloré. 

With this volume of services beginning to be marketed, it will be interesting to see what volume of usage develops. But whatever happens, it is the beginning of a newly mapped future for the continent.