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Airbiquity: Low-Cost Internet-Ready PNDs On The Way

Seattle — Airbiquity is offering a low-cost way for personal navigation device (PND) makers to turn their devices into two-way, Internet-connected models at “mass market” prices, said the company.

The first of these devices could be available at International CES in January, it said.

A PND using Airbiquity’s platform can connect to the Internet via the user’s Bluetooth cellular phone, without the need for a special data plan.  Airbiquity then provides back-end services, such as a local Internet search via Google or Yahoo, weather, traffic and gas-price updates, and emergency roadside assistance. Airbiquity currently provides back end service for OnStar, BMW and Ford Sync, said Ralf Hug, the company’s new marketing and product management VP; Hug was formerly marketing VP for Navigon.

“What’s really new is we’re taking an end-to-end solutions approach, offering [a way] to make a connected PND a reality. It’s low cost to implement — you don’t need embedded GPRS, don’t need a data plan. You get small microbursts that can be built in to your voice plan” said Hug.

He noted that 80 percent of cellular phones now offer Bluetooth.

“No one is offering this back-end service through Bluetooth. Those who have tried to offer embedded wireless have had trouble charging $9.99 per month,” he added.

TomTom uses Bluetooth in its TomTom Plus Traffic service, but it requires a wireless data plan and a $60/year subscription fee.

Airbiquity’s software modem allows data to be sent over voice channels. It also allows voice and data transmission at the same time, so in its emergency roadside-assistance feature, users can press a button on the PND and connect to a call-in center to request help while the user’s location is sent to the operator.

Airbiquity said it also provides an advertising-supplemented back-end model. PND makers choosing to offer this model might offer the product at a lower price, said Hug.

Connected PNDs are expected to be the next high-end segment of the PND market, according to analysts and suppliers.