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Mexens Technology has begun shipping a software package that turns any BlackBerry PDA phone into a personal navigation device (PND) that delivers turn-by-turn driving instructions without a monthly carrier subscription fee and without the use of GPS-satellite signals.
Mexens' Navizon software uses cell tower triangulation rather than GPS to help users navigate. As a result, it works with any BlackBerry operating within any carrier's network, and it works indoors and in urban canyons where GPS signals might be blocked, the company said. The software also uses Wi-Fi hot spot triangulation.
Navizon is accurate to within a couple of city blocks using cellphone triangulation and accurate to within 50 feet using Wi-Fi, said Mexens founder and CEO Cyril Houri.
Navizon software may be purchased at www.navizon.com for a flat fee of $24.99 to non-GPS users, who also receive a free 15-day trial.
Navizon software has been available for Windows Mobile and Symbian S60 series smartphones and PDA phones, and the company plans a version for all Java-equipped phones, including the Motorola Razr.
The company developed the software even though subscription-based navigation software has been available through carriers from TeleNav for BlackBerrys and other phones. TeleNav software appears on such BlackBerrys as the 8800 from AT&T and T-Mobile and the 8703e from Sprint. For its part, Garmin offers a third-party application and service.
Navizon, however, said its solution is unique because it works with all carriers without a monthly subscription fee, and it works indoors and in urban canyons where a GPS signal is often inaccessible.
"That's how we started the company," Houri said. "We were frustrated that we couldn't use our GPS device in New York City — either we were inside or surrounded by buildings so the GPS just wasn't working."
For the software to work, however, "The only condition is that the area is mapped by one user in the community," Houri said. For an area to get mapped, at least one Navizon user must own a GPS-equipped phone and must actively use Navizon in a locality to "establish" the cell-tower locations for that region. "It's a peer-to-peer positioning system" analogous to music sharing networks in which the first user has to convert a song to MP3 before it can be shared by other users, Houri explained. Navizon now covers about 90 percent of U.S. cities and most cities in the world, he said.
To encourage data collection, Navizon software is free to owners of a GPS-equipped phone, and Mexens awards points to heavy travelers such as truck drivers for collecting cell-tower locations. Houri says a truck driver can earn $100 a week under the rewards program.
Navizon users enter their destination in the BlackBerry, and the software displays directions on a "live" moving map as well as in text form. The software does not provide audible voice cues, however.
Navizon users also get the ability to transmit their location to other members on a "buddy list." The software also performs searches for "Starbucks," "pizza" or other venues and displays the findings in order of closest proximity to the driver's location.
GPS capability for the BlackBerry is one of the more popular add-on features for the BlackBerry, according to TeleNav, which claims to be the leading third-party GPS software provider for the Research In Motion devices with about a 90 percent share.
Sal Dhanani, TeleNav senior marketing director and co-founder, estimates the attachment rate for TeleNav GPS to BlackBerry devices (or customers who activate the TeleNav software) is approximately 10 percent and growing.
As a third-party software provider for the BlackBerry, Garmin offers software that can be loaded onto Sprint models to receive directions as well as real time traffic, gas prices, weather and hotel prices at $9.99 per month.
At AT&T/Cingular, the carrier offers the recently available BlackBerry 8800 with built-in GPS and TeleNav GPS Navigator. The carrier's GPS-equipped HP iPAQ 6920 also offers it.
Eighteeen other Cingular phones, not just smartphones and PDA phones, also offer TeleNav Navigator but require the use of a standalone Bluetooth-equipped GPS receiver to offer 3D moving maps, visual and voice prompts, business and gas-station finder, and other features, a spokesman said.
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