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July 21, 2005

Nextel Finds GPS Gold In Its Handsets

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With Nextel's announcement that it is teaming up with Trimble to deliver a GPS-based service to contractors, the cell phone manufacturer has once again tapped the technology hidden in its handsets to deliver a solution its users should find useful.

On Wednesday Nextel announced it is providing Trimble's Construction Manager so contractors can use their cell phones to manage construction sites and track vehicles. Since the platform was opened to developers two and a half years ago, they have been spinning out Global Positioning System applications for Nextel subscribers.

For the most part, GPS technology has been laying dormant in cell phone handsets.

"A lot of people are carrying GPS phones and don't know it," said Mary Foltz, Nextel's director of location solutions in an interview. "We created an open interface for our developers. Now we're getting a ton of stuff from small, medium, and big companies."

Nextel jumped into the GPS forefront by putting GPS chipsets in all its handsets beginning in November of 2002. The chipsets are supplied to Nextel by its chief handset and device suppliers, Motorola and Blackberry manufacturer Research In Motion. Nextel is finding that its subscribers are increasingly using GPS applications as the cell phone service provider rolls out more location-based applications.

GPS usage in cell phones is likely to continue to spread. Also this week, Qualcomm Inc., announced that it is including its gpsOne navigation solution in its wireless 3G modems. The new software solution will be available in select Qualcomm Mobile Station Modem chipsets for both CDMA2000 and WCDMA (UMTS) networks.

By committing early to GPS, Nextel jumped to the vanguard of its use with cell phones. The Construction Manager application with GPS pioneer Trimble is just the latest iteration of Nextel's commitment to global positioning. Playing off its strength in construction markets, Nextel delivers maps and designs on its handsets to construction managers.

"They like it because they can download site design," Foltz said. "And, they can tell where their equipment is." She added that the in-vehicle feature of Trimble Construction Manager enables contractors to track their heavy equipment to get the most productive use out of it. The location features of the application can also alert users to dangerous or hazardous areas.

Nextel inaugurated GPS applications that were initially aimed at businesses--contractors and delivery services, for instance. "It hasn't been a consumer play until recently," said Foltz.

An earlier partnership with Trimble called Trimble Outdoors has been popular with hikers and backpackers. Subscribers pay between $4.99 and $9.99 a month and get navigational tools including a compass and altitude finder complete with latitude and longitude headings. Backpackers create waypoints and can find their way to safety if they get lost.

Another Nextel application with MapQuest called "Find Me" enables subscribers to pinpoint their locations and then find destinations like restaurants, hotels, and airports, all on a map and with text directions. A turn-by-turn driving application called TeleNav, from a company also named TeleNav, brings simple driving directions to Nextel users for a fraction of the price of vehicle-mounted GPS units.

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