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Navman Wireless bonds with Google

[UPDATE: Navman Wireless says it is in the process of finalising a deal with AA Traffic's Geosmart division for real-time traffic alerts. The feature is expected to be added in a few weeks. Navman Wireless will also supply traffic flow information to Geos

Chris Keall
Fri, 26 Mar 2010

[UPDATE: Navman Wireless says it is in the process of finalising a deal with AA Traffic's Geosmart division for real-time traffic alerts. The feature is expected to be added in a few weeks. Navman Wireless will also supply traffic flow information to Geosmart.]

First: a quick history listen for those who don't know their Navman from their Navman Wireless:

You may already know a lot of the bad news: Rich Lister Peter Maire sold Navman to US company Brunswick in 2004.

At that point, Navman, which Mr Maire founded in Auckland in 1986, had around 800 staff.

The purchase didn’t work out for Brunswick, which in 2007 decided to flick off Navman and refocus on its core, non-tech business (which includes concrete and bowling gear).

Navman was cleaved in three.

Norway’s Navico picked up the marine division, which continues to have a small R&D division on Auckland’s North Shore, having laid off around 80 of its 240 staff when it ceased to manufacture in New Zealand last year.

Taiwan’s Mitac picked up Navman’s consumer incar navigation business, which has whittled down local staff to around 48 (mostly involved in software development). Although most of its operation is now offshore, Navman continues to hold its own against rivals like TomTom in the retail market - in large part due to its (so far) unique partnership with the AA’s Geosmart division, which supplies real-time traffic updates.

The most successful sibling
The third division - the commercial fleet tracking Navman Wireless - was the subject of a management buyout, backed by Chicago private equity outfit Prairie Capital.

Navman Wireless’ Asia Pacific vice president Ian Daniel - a veteran at Navman - was one of those involved in the buyout. And although the company is based in Chicago, there are around 70 staff at Navman’s old North Shore, Auckland office, handling R&D and marketing (worldwide, there are around 240 staff).

Mr Daniel told NBR that Navman Wireless is the number one fleet management brand in Australia and New Zealand, and active in 16 countries, including the UK, US, Mexico, Italy and Spain and Taiwan.

Turnover is around $NZ100 million a year, and the company is profitable. At home, business is helped by supplying a white label product to Telecom, which is resold as Locate+ (though Navman Wireless can and does work with Vodafone too).

The cellphone threat
GPS companies all around the world are grappling with the fact that satellite navigation hardware has become a commodity. All are pushing their development efforts more toward software and services - but there, they come up against the likes of Nokia, which has poured billions into created software and mapping services for its high-end phones. Plus the likes of TomTom, which has recently released an iPhone app.

Mr Daniel saw no immediate threat from GPS services migrating to cellphones - at least in Navman Wireless’ area. Trucking company owners don’t like phones because their batteries run out, and rogue drivers can simply turn them off. Give them something hard wired every time.

ABOVE: like all commercial GPS vendors these days, Navman is moving more and more beyond commodity hardware into software and services, including workflow and scheduling. Details of jobs, complete with map info, can be sent directly from an office PC to a driver. Alerts tell an office manager when a driver stays beyond a set time at an address, or when they stray from, or enter, a "geo-fenced" Google Map area.

The new kit
Navman Wireless’ latest GPS device, the M-Nav 760 works with the company’s more advanced Qube (which collects information about the state of a vehicle’s engine) but has its own satellite receiver (so it can also be popped out and used as a consumer GPS), and adds Bluetooth, giving it the ability to sync with your cellphone for hands-free calling (a useful feature with the recent law change, but one that failed at Navman’s demo).

A signal from the M-Nav 760 and a Qube are beamed via the cellphone network of your choice to a data centre run by Auckland provider Maxnet. From Maxnet, a feed comes over the internet to a PC at your workplace, where you can track the location of your drivers, and other metrics, using Navman Wireless’ fleet management software.

Standard pricing is $160.95 per month per vehicle on a 36 month contract, including all hardware (M-Nav 760 and Qube tracking device) and software.

Unique Google alliance
All fleet management GPS companies now offer similar setups, but Navman Wireless has become the first in the world to sign a global deal with Google, allowing it to integrate Google Maps and Street View maps into its PC software.

That makes it literally easier for someone in the office to visualise a driver's progress, in near real-time, and to check out their destination (useful, say, if you're a noise control officer and curious if the address you're heading to looks like a gang house).

Another nifty feature is the ability to “geofence” or draw an area on a Google Map with your mouse. When a driver strays from that geographical area - you’ll receive an alert. A more positive use: if you set the whole of Auckland as your geofence, you could get an alert when a driver crosses the Bombay Hills, triggering a txt alert to a forklift driver at your warehouse.

Privacy switch
Back in the vehicle, there’s another innovation: a new privacy switch (literally, a separately installed switch) that will wipe all data about a journey.

Mr Daniel said the likes of trucking and service companies would never in a million years install the switch, but Navman Wireless sees a market for sales and marketing people who’re given a little leeway on weekends.

Chris Keall
Fri, 26 Mar 2010
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Navman Wireless bonds with Google