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Mobile search is seen as the big problem to solve in the directory business. But in the mobile business, many eyes are also on the development of location-based services, which are on the cusp of serious rollouts after years of false warnings, according to speakers at CTIA Entertainment '06 in Los Angeles this week.

"People always say that the local-based revolution is '18 months away,' " noted Mitch Lasky, senior VP at EA Mobile. "And the joke in my office is that every six months, we say it is just 18 months away."

But this time, they seem to mean it — although it seems more likely that utilitarian features, such as traffic reports, will initially lead the way rather than more lucrative entertainment apps. "Location-based services will be huge for us," said Lowell McAdam, executive VP and COO, Verizon Wireless. "And it opens up other possibilities, like advertising for restaurants, or downloading coupons for movies."

For the mobile device industry, a lot of the appeal of LBS is that it scores big in the mobile device "war on iPods." Maps and directions, point of interest and real time information all beat the iPod. So does the fact that mobile phones are always being carried by users, whether at work or play, and that they're used for all kinds of social interaction.

"Location needs to be pervasive," said Qualcomm Product Manager Arnold Gum. Gum noted that several apps are already "in place and popular." These include:

Personal security: roadside assistance, e911, weather warning, child finders
Point of Interest: city guides, mobile YP, navigation, Traffic reroute
Enterprise: feet management, etc.

Looking up the road to "up and coming apps," Gum said are the gravy apps:

Peer to Peer: buddy groups, geo market photo sharing, dating
Gaming: international gaming, geo-caching, location-aware games group
Commerce: mobile coupons, customer service

Other speakers noted that the appeal of LBS is clear enough: "You can get 20 x premiums for an LBS ad, but only if we can get to that point," said Mark Teitell, principal, Mercer Management Consulting. "But how far beyond utilitarian can LBS go? What is the highest impact intersection? What is the new functionality that we need? And what is the impact of ads, and the average revenue per user that we can expect?"

Teitell complained that it is probably too limiting to confine LBS to mobile phones. Mobile PCs, auto-embedded devices and even the desktop should be considered part of the industry, he said. "How many times do people stand at the desktop printing out directions from MapQuest before they head out?"

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