Harish Damani loves to drive but has a poor sense of direction. Delhi's roads, for instance, have always confounded him and he seldom drove in the city without his driver. But that was till last month.
Ever since, he's been finding excuses to lend his chauffeur to his wife and be in the driver's seat. While it's undoubtedly his new Ford Endeavour that's got him excited, it's also the 7-inch touchscreen global positioning system (GPS)-enabled device - with a built-in DVD player and Bluetooth - that's given him the confidence of finding his way.
It's consumers like Harish who delight Rakesh Verma, the managing director of C E Info Systems (better known for its mapmyindia portal). Verma has been in the business of digital maps and now GPS devices too since 1992.
Today his company claims to possess the largest repository of digital map data available for India. For instance, his latest version, which Verma is yet to release, covers the country's six lakh villages. Besides it currently has data on around 1,000 cities and over 8 million kilometres of road length.
Rakesh came across a digital map making and GIS software when attending a conference in the US. The very next day he flew down to the software company's headquarters and struck a deal with them to distribute their software in India and build maps using it.
"This was the time when no digital maps were available for India," recalls Verma. In fact, when Coca Cola wanted to re-enter India in 1995, MapmyIndia helped them with their logistics and distribution across India.
Over the last 14 years, Verma's company has empowered over 500 leading enterprises and government customers with geographical information system (GIS)-based business intelligence.
For enterprises, which account for around 25 per cent of Verma's business, these solutions are priced at Rs 5 lakh upwards. The remaining 75 per cent is sold to consumers (through retail and original equipment manufacturer channels).
In 2004, MapmyIndia took the next step of introducing location-based services revolution to India by launching India's first interactive maps portal, MapmyIndia.com. The portal introduced Yahoo! Maps to India, and has map-enabled many websites including Makemytrip and MagicBricks. BSNL, too, uses Verma's maps for its location-based service (LBS) in India.
Two years back, he started layering the maps on GPS devices (the hardware is imported from China and Taiwan while the software or firmware is done locally) too. Now it's not only Ford India that uses his GPS devices but other car majors too like Tata Motors, Maruti, General Motors and Mitsubishi (OEM in Pajero).
Consumers are lapping up these GPS devices if Verma is to be believed. "We've sold around 15,000 such devices till date. The prices range between Rs 12,000 and Rs 15,000 (the in-built car navigation systems are sold as genunie accessories or bundled as free-of-cost goodies)," says Verma.
Moreover, MapmyIndia's navigable map (introduced in 2007) is driving Airtel's GPS Navigation, and is also available on Motorola's Moto Ming and Sony Ericsson's GPS phones.
"But GPS receivers are only as good as the maps they're used with. Besides, the maps have to be updated else they are rendered useless," cautions Verma who has employed the services of 400 surveyors and 150 map data specialists for the job of updating these maps regularly.
Today MapmyIndia effectively leverages three platforms in-car navigation, mobile phones (loading the company's iNav solution onto mobile phones allows for GPS navigation for which Verma has tie-ups with Motorola, Sony Ericsson and Airtel), and the internet (MapmyIndia.com has navigable mapping solutions available free).
Investors, too, have reposed faith in the company which has received $15 million (around Rs 75 crore) funding till date from Qualcomm Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, Sherpalo Ventures and Nexus India Capital.
The competition, however, is hotting up for Verma. The Indian landscape has well-entrenched players like SatNav Technologies which also has tie-ups with enterprises, car companies and handset makers.
The world's largest handset maker (with over 40 per cent market share) is out of bounds for the likes of both mapmyIndia and SatNav since it bought NAVTEQ - a leading provider of comprehensive digital map information for automotive navigation systems, mobile navigation devices, internet-based mapping applications, and government and business solutions - in October 2007.
Moreover, Reliance ADA group is back in the game for digital maps (it had earlier ventured in this space in 2006).
BIG Maps is now available on Reliance Communication's GSM service and the company has also released its applications interface (API) for web publishers to integrate it with their website.
The BIGMaps service will allow subscribers to search across business, directions, events and movies by organising local information on a pan-India basis. It is currently available on mobile phones through SMS, WAP and downloads. This implies that the web-enabled service launch is imminent.
To top it all is the fact that Google offers maps for free on mobiles and plans to make money of location-based services through advertising. And so does Microsoft's MSN. These two players dominate the internet arena.
Nevertheless, the LBS market (refers only to GPS on mobile devices) in India alone is estimated to touch Rs 400 crore (Rs 4 billion) by 2013. Research firm Gartner predicts that worldwide LBS subscribers will grow to 95.7 million in 2009 while revenue is anticipated to touch $2.2 billion in 2009.
Verma acknowledges that competition will be tough but insists he has the "early mover" advantage, adding: "I have no intention of letting it slip."