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The Promise of Wireless: Location-Based Info 
    GeePS.com  (11/2000)

    by Douglas Dixon

    OLD - NO LONGER IN BUSINESS

    See also: Location-Based Services - Wireless Devices: Mobile Internet Access

    GeePS Products and Customers - The Mobile Future & G.P.S. - New Jersey Online
    GeePS Team - GeePS Beginnings - The Wireless Future

What should we do tonight? Where should we go for dinner? These are perennial questions, whether you're exiting a theater in Times Square and ready for some serious shopping, or commuting home on the train and interested in going to a movie or trying out a new restaurant.

But, how do you find out what your options are: what interesting stores are within walking distance, which restaurants are running specials this week, or the show times at near-by theaters? If you picked up a local newspaper, you could look through the ads and entertainment listings for something interesting. If you were really organized, maybe you brought along a city guidebook. Or if you are the wired type, maybe you planned ahead and surfed the Web to find interesting opportunities.

   

It's fun to use the Web to explore the virtual world online, with instant access to news and information, the ability to shop the globe from your desk, and even the ability to look up local businesses and create customized maps. But we live in the physical world, where we commute to work, shop in local stores, and eat in neighborhood restaurants. So wouldn't it be cool if this kind of instant access and up-to-date information in the virtual online world also were available to us in the physical world?

This is the beckoning promise of wireless communications: everyday use of handheld devices to provide wireless Web access, combined with "location-based" services to provide information relevant to where you are and what you are doing. A Cranbury company, GeePS.com, Inc., is working towards this promise by developing products that provide the technological infrastructure required to support these kinds of services.

This is the transformation from E-commerce to M-commerce (mobile commerce). "The marketplace has survived since the dawn of the man," says Arshad Masood, president and COO of GeePS. "We are genetically predisposed to a place like a market, something like a downtown square where people gather and shop. GeePS is trying to extend that place to the people, and the Internet to the people, so they can connect to that place, both when they are physically there, and also when they are physically not there."

GeePS was founded in 1999, and announced its first customers for retail and mall services this summer. New Jersey Online (www.nj.com) also is using GeePS to develop its first wireless edition, and is beginning to test location-based services for local businesses in the Summit area.

GeePS Products and Customers

With the GeePS service, you can access information about your local environment on the wireless Web, whether you are walking around a city like New York or driving through a town like Princeton. You can look up merchants, find out about special promotions or pick up a coupon, and then head over to a store. Once in the store, you even can complete the sales transaction with a secure wireless payment through your Internet-enabled cellular phone or handheld PDA.

"This is the premise of the Internet," says Andy Goren, CEO of GeePS, "anything, anywhere, anytime, no limits. We provide the whole infrastructure for merchants to go live and provide messages targeted to consumers in their area."

GeePS intends to provide an end-to-end mobile commerce solution for both merchants and consumers. It helps local merchants compete with "E-Tailers" and attract new customers by sending personalized information and promotional messages to customers in their immediate vicinity. GeePS allows merchants to continue to offer the best aspects of traditional bricks-and-mortar shopping (touch and feel, and human interaction) with the informational capabilities of the Internet.

"GeePS is a location-based wireless ASP (Application Service Provider), focused on retail," says Goren. "We provide the dynamic communication between merchants and consumers that doesn't exist in the physical world."

GeePS has introduced two product suites: the GeePS.Store suite for retail chains and the GeePS.Mall platform for brick-and-mortar malls and virtual malls such as media companies and portals. In recent months, GeePS has announced several strategic alliances and its first customers for these products.

In August, GeePS announced the signing of Liberty USA, a West Mifflin, Pa., wholesaler that supplies packaged goods to 1,500 convenience stores in Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and also has communications activities as a regional Internet Service Provider and as an AT&T mobile dealer.

As part of the agreement, Liberty USA will negotiate with manufacturers to sponsor special deals for its retailers that are signed to the GeePS "Go Power Shopping" (GPS) program. Liberty USA will then promote these specials to consumers using GeePS technology, and retailers will receive GeePS advertising for them.

In September, GeePS announced its first mall customer, Palisades Center, a shopping mall with 220 stores and 10 sit-down resturants in West Nyack, New York. The center will use mobile commerce technologies for wireless delivery of targeted, local shopping information and news to consumers (WAS www.palcen.com). "We expect to have 15 to 20,000 users in two to three months," says Masood. "It's one of the largest wireless tests in the nation."

       

The Palisades Center's more than 20 million annual visitors can register on its website or through kiosks in the mall, and indicate the general categories and individual stores from which they want to receive promotional messages. "Customers will have the ability to not only find through print what is going on," says Masood, "but also through voice, Internet, mobile, portable devices, and E-mail, the whole spectrum of information sources or channels. We will be able to give you something that is interesting to you."

The participating Palisades Center merchants -- including Filene's, Restoration Hardware, Eddie Bauer, Brooks Brothers, Lord & Taylor, Old Navy, the IMAX Theater, and Macaroni Grill -- are reportedly enthusiastic about the quick-to-market and quick response they get from wireless advertising. "This test is indicating that mobile messaging technologies have made the move from fiction to fact," says Masood.

The Mobile Future & G.P.S.

GeePS is founded on the premise that the underlying technology for these kinds of services is becoming available very quickly, especially the pervasive use of mobile phones for Web access. This is not just wild optimism; you do not need a crystal ball to see this future; it is already developing around us today.

Part of the technology has appeared with the introduction this year of mobile phones with Web access and with wireless Internet services for handheld PDA (personal digital assistant) devices like the Palm. This is also leading to the development of location-based information and services, from restaurant reviews to movie show times to maps and directions.

The future of mobile Internet access is even more visible overseas. Mobile phone use is exploding around the globe, not only in the obvious areas like Europe, Scandinavia, Japan and other East Asian countries, but also in poorer countries with unreliable telephone service and expensive Internet access, where cellular access provides a quick alternate path to becoming wired.

For example, the New York Times reports that 78 percent of the households in Finland have at least one mobile phone, and NTT DotCoMo in Japan has 7.3 million customers sending an average of five e-mail messages a day. And in the Philippines, Globe Telecom was handling 18 million mobile text messages a day at the end of 1999, or an average of 26 per customer, even in the midst of a guerrilla war.

The final piece of technology needed for the GeePS service is the ability for your wireless device to pinpoint your position, so it can retrieve information related to your current physical location. The GeePS name is derived from the Global Positioning System (G.P.S.), which can triangulate your position based on signals from satellites in geosynchronous orbit. The G.P.S. system was developed by the U.S. government for military use, and, until recently, deliberately provided a lower level of accuracy for civilian and commercial use. G.P.S. receivers have become widely available, for providing driving directions in rental cars, tracking truck fleets, hiking isolated trails, and even as add-ons to handheld PDAs.

However, with the growing use of G.P.S. for important non-military applications like transportation, agriculture, and emergency response, the government removed the service limitations in May. This means that G.P.S. receivers can now pinpoint your position with an accuracy of around 40 to 70 feet. But G.P.S. accuracy relies on line of sight visibility to up to four satellites, and can therefore be hampered by atmospheric conditions, and it has trouble when driving in a city with tall buildings or an area with lots of overhanging trees.

Meanwhile, the FCC has set an October, 2001, deadline for its "E-911" Mandate, which requires that wireless carriers be able to locate a caller who makes a 911 emergency call over a cell phone. The cellular carriers will likely implement this service by using their cell base stations to estimate your position relative to the stations on their network that can receive your signal. Installing full G.P.S. receiver hardware in cell phones will be rather expensive for the near future.

"G.P.S. will be in some phones by next year," says Goren. "Network-based location services are not as accurate, but the networks can implement it much faster. The accuracy varies, from a few hundred feet to maybe a mile."

New Jersey Online

Given that all these technology components will fall into place -- ubiquitous mobile Web service, E-911 location positioning, and location-based services -- GeePS is developing the "glue" components to connect them together into a complete end-to-end service for local retail businesses. Local businesses typically have no need for a heavily wired Web presence, so the idea is to develop tools to help get them online, and updated with timely information.

One prototype of this kind of service is being developed by GeePS with Advance Internet for their New Jersey Online Web site. New Jersey Online was launched in 1996, and now attracts more than 30 million page views each month. Its local content includes local news, sports, features and classifieds from the Star-Ledger and Times of Trenton.

   

The wireless edition of NJO went online in October (WAS www.nj.com/wireless), and includes a demo of how the service actually looks on a wireless phone. The NJO service will offer local news headlines, weather forecasts, sports scores, and stock quotes, as well as location-based shopping information.

"The GeePS concept of wireless access is a perfect fit with the positioning for NJO," says Fred Tuccillo, president and CEO of New Jersey Online. "It's a terrific tool to bring to local advertisers. It makes the Internet an application for small businesses locally."

"The Internet is intimidating, with the cost and technology," he says. "It has the potential to pull the customer away from local business to national aggregators. We are positioning NJO to allow local retailers to bring their brand and business to the Internet."

NJO began a test of this approach this summer by providing location-based service in the Summit area. "We will support local businesses in Summit," says Tuccillo, "at least two to three dozen, and grow during the test. It has a good mix of retail, services, and convenience stores, clustered around the railroad station. Commuters can access restaurants and dry cleaning." The plan is then to broaden the service to the rest of the state in a few months.

NJO already posts advertisements and coupons from its affiliated newspapers online, so the content is already available to translate for wireless access. "There are no technology requirements for the retailer," says Tuccillo. "Initially we were doing the work for the advertiser. Existing advertisers are already sending us material, and we translate it. Advertisers are not paying extra. They get a level of exposure to the marketplace for as little as $40 a month."

New Jersey Online, based in Jersey City, is owned and operated by Advance Internet, which is itself owned by Advance Publications, part of the Newhouse chain of newspapers in 22 cities including the Star Ledger and the Times of Trenton, as well as the Condé Nast magazines and Parade. Advance Internet, working with Advance Publications' newspapers, has developed 10 local websites including New Jersey Online, Alabama Live, Cleveland Live, Michigan Live, Oregon Live, MassLive, Syracuse Online, Staten Island Live, PennLive, and NOLA Live.

Frederick Tuccillo was named president & CEO of New Jersey Online in May 2000. A resident of Matawan, New Jersey, he had previously been group publisher for Advance Internet affiliates in the Staten Island and Syracuse, NY, Springfield, MA and Harrisburg, PA markets. He will continue to head the Staten Island site, Staten Island Live (www.silive.com). Before joining Advance Internet in December 1997, he developed and led new media programs at Newsday, the Long Island newspaper.

"GeePS provides the connection to retailers, the best and easiest administrative access to advertisers," says Tuccillo. "We have a long way to go to making small business comfortable. We are seeing good work from GeePS."

GeePS Team: Goren and Masood / Visionet

GeePS is the creation of Andy Goren, CEO, a veteran of several Princeton-area Internet and security software companies, and Arshad Masood, president and COO, the founder and CEO of Visionet Systems, Inc., a Cranbury-based consulting company specializing in E-business services and wireless solutions.

Goren came to Princeton in 1992 after getting a BS from the University of California at Berkeley and doing graduate work at Stanford. After stints managing software development at Logic Works and Cranbury-based Protoview Development, Goren started TV Objects in 1995, where he was CEO.

TV Objects developed computer language conversion tools. Its Applet Designer product anticipated the explosion of interest in the Java language for the Web by allowing programs written in Visual Basic to be converted to Java. Applet Designer was acquired in December 1998 by Diamond Edge, Inc. (www.diamondedge.com).

Goren then switched from software to hardware, and was CEO of LapJack Systems, which developed a hardware security device for laptops. LapJack was acquired in February, 1999, by Curtis Computer Products (WAS www.lapjack.com).

Arshad Masood has a MS in computer science from the University of Guelph in Canada and an MBA from Baruch College in New York. He worked at IBM as a sales manager for several years before starting Visionet Systems in 1989 (www.visionetsystems.com).

   

"When I started out I wanted to have my own business," says Masood. "I was looking for opportunity to do what I wanted to do, and it took me a long time and a trip around the world to get to that point."

He earned an undergraduate degree in engineering in Pakistan. "Where I was, the only job possibilities were to either be a doctor or an engineer", he says, "so I ended up in engineering, which I did not like." At the University of Guelph, he explored interdisciplinary studies, "because I wanted to broaden my horizons and see what was out there beyond a mathematical equation."

Masood's next stop was Baruch College in New York. "I figured out that if I wanted to be a businessman, then I did not know how to become one," he says. "So I took the most popular route in the 1980s, which was to get an MBA. And it worked for me. Not even half way there, the first opportunity popped up," when he applied for a summer internship with IBM.

"When I used to work for IBM, all my clients were in this area," he says, "so I was practically living here. So when I started Visionet I settled on Route 1 because it had a glamorous appeal to it when it came to high tech." In the early years, Visionet was a one-person company. "It took me six or seven years to make it a viable business," he says, "before that it was done out of my home, funding through my own pocket, working wherever I could."

In 1996 Masood finally was able to open an office. "That is when it became a viable business entity," he says, "before that it was pretty much my passion. I discovered that there was a sector of the technology in the mid-range systems where there are very few players and a good market in this area. There were lot of customers, not only in the tri-state area but also outside, which had that that kind of need and some background in financial systems and manufacturing systems that I had. It was a combination which was the right time and the right place." Masood grew his company with no outside funding; it was all grown out of revenues.

GeePS Beginnings

Goren and Masood were brought together by a Visionet employee who had previously worked for Goren. "He saw both of us trying to do the next thing," says Masood, "and said why not introduce you since you are both in Princeton." Traditional IP was becoming stale to Masood, and he was looking for a new challenge. "The challenge was merging wireless technology with the telephone," he says, "and also trying to extend it to the brick and mortar because that was where we thought the opportunity would be."

Masood used Visionet facilities, staffing, and funding to incubate GeePS. "GeePS was partially funded by Visionet," he says, "and it provided all the developers and all the basic infrastructure at the beginning until it got funded."

GeePS is also VC funded. It received a $2 million round of funding in April from Cupola Investments Limited, and is currently working on closing another round of $5 million. Some of the existing investors are providing additional funding.

At first, GeePS was co-located with Visionet in Cranbury, but recently it moved into a separate 3,000 square foot office in the same complex and now has approximately 23 employees.

"GeePS has a team of its own now," says Masood, "so basically I believe that my job is pretty much done. I was really involved hands-on, but as it goes on its own I'll be withdrawing from a role in GeePS and going back to Visionet."

Visionet, which recently opened a West Coast office, now has approximately 50 employees, with 15 employees in 6000 square feet in Cranbury, 20 employees in 2000 square feet in California, and the rest working on projects on-site at customer locations. Visionet also has access to offshore resources at three offices in Pakistan with 120 employees.

"I was looking for something exciting and new," says Masood, "that was why I sponsored and invested in GeePS." GeePS was his first outside investment. "I am looking at a couple of other opportunities," he says, "very likely something to do with voice and the Net."

But Masood is concerned that he must move to the West Coast to pursue these opportunities. "I am resisting because my family and my kids are here in school," he says, "but it is very hard to do the things I want to do here. Even though I have done it here, but I think I could have done more. The types of opportunities, the access to capital, the environment, the people around you, the ease of getting employees, the ideas, and the acceptance are much broader in California. One of the reasons Visionet has the office there is that I want to spend more time there."

The Wireless Future

So get ready for the mobile wireless future: constant connection, instant access, and location-based services. With a mobile phone, you can be connected wherever you go with telephone voice and messaging services. With wireless Web service to your phone or PDA, you can have instant access to Internet information and services. And with positional information, you also can receive location-based services.

Mobile phones and the E-911 locating service do raise privacy issues, since the cellular provider, and therefore authorized government agencies, can track your movements from your cell phone. The use of this information for commercial services is a further concern, if wireless portals and local merchants start collecting information about who frequents their local area, and then constantly bombard you with advertising on your mobile phone.

"Our model is pull, not push," says Goren. "Users find it intrusive to be pushing." The GeePS model, in contrast, is to provide the services on request. You opt-in to the service by first going to a site and registering. Then when you are looking for information, you go to the site and access the information that you requested. The intent is to not make personal information and cell phone numbers available to retailers and other third parties.

While the full promise of these services is not available today, the pieces are coming together. With some advance planning, you can download and save location-based information for a specific city, including restaurants, shopping, and maps. With the additional effort of manually entering your current location, you can also access similar information from your wireless phone or handheld PDA.

The task for GeePS is to build the technological plumbing to make it easy for a wide variety of retail stores to go online, and to enable a critical mass of location-based information. "We provide the whole infrastructure for merchants to go live," says Goren. "We integrate to the back end of merchant systems. We have the locations of 16 million U.S. businesses in our database."

The New Jersey Online test period will run for a year. "We are approaching it an open-ended way," says Tuccillo, of New Jersey Online. "We can expand as we go. With the full year, we get full value, through the seasonal shopping cycles. It's work in progress, like most Internet ventures."

"This is a change of paradigm for retail information," says Goren. "The big companies get it, and the smaller ones are just playing with it. It's going to take time."

References

GeePS.com, Inc.
    WAS www.geeps.com

Visionet Systems, Inc.
    www.visionetsystems.com

New Jersey Online
    www.nj.com