After Google and Nokia, Airtel has now entered the navigation services market. It has launched turn-by-turn voice navigation and live traffic updates for its customers with its new ‘SmartDrive’ map application.

This comes within a week of Google unveiling a similar service on its existing map service in India; analysts believe more telecom operators will soon launch similar services.

While there is no charge to view the map, a customer has to pay for navigation (Rs 99/month) and live traffic data (Rs 49/month). However, data browsing is free till November 30.

Alternative routes

The SmartDrive app can also suggest alternative routes in case of heavy traffic, and search for nearby restaurants, theatres and shopping malls.

Hemant Joshi, Telecom Leader at Deloitte, said: “The average revenue per user is falling, subscriber base increase is not happening and there is uncertainty in regulation. Telecom operations are looking at non-voice revenues, things like data services.”

Mahesh Uppal, Director at independent research firm, Comfirst, added that telecom operators have access to a lot of geographical data, which they want to take advantage of.

The SmartDrive app currently covers Delhi and NCR, Mumbai and Bangalore. By December, the service will be extended to Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune. Like Nokia’s Drive, Airtel’s maps are also sourced from Navteq.

Though a drain on the battery, the benefit of such apps is that a customer saves on the price of hardware. Voice-based navigation is also available from providers such as Mapmyindia, Garmin and TomTom, but in such cases one has to invest in a separate display unit, that usually starts from Rs 5,000-6,000.

(This article was published on September 11, 2012)
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