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Interview with Steve Lombardi recently caught up with Steve Lombardi in Cannes, France to discuss the soon-to-be-announced MapPoint Location Server

Here you can learn more about the (yet not released) MapPoint Location Server (MLS) and about latest version (3.5) of MapPoint web service. MLS was presented, albeit not mentioned by name, during ITU 2003 conference in Switzerland during keynote by Bill Gates but now Microsoft slowly is revealing this location services product. This interview gives you insight into MLS - the new product from Microsoft that may revolutionize Location Based Service (LBS) for ever. With MLS writing LBS applications is extremely easy (5 minutes of 1 person compared to 1 year of 10 people) and enterprises don't have to worry about technical details. Microsoft also provides complete solution, including interfacing to networks of wireless operators, so enterprises, that purchase MLS can really concentrate on creation of appealing and profitable location services, rather than on reinventing the wheel.

This interview was carried out on February 24, 2004 in Cannes, France, during 3GSM World Congress 2004. We would like to express big thanks to Jamie Lee and Erica from Waggener Edstrom (PR agency in USA), who helped us to arrange this interview.

* * * * * could you introduce yourself?

Steve Lombardi: I work for MapPoint group, my title is "technical evangelist", my name is Steve Lombardi and I cover all the mapping products, so the *** products, Pocket Streets, MapPoint Web Service, and the new MapPoint Location Server you cover all geographical.. maps?

Steve Lombardi: yes, anything mapping related I cover... so what we wanted to talk to you today primarily was the Location Server - the new product for getting real time location from operator networks I don't know if you have noticed: I've covered smartphone application from England, the guy is calling a web service and it is finding the location...

Steve Lombardi: Chandu ! I don't know how...

Steve Lombardi: no! it's his name: "Chandu"! no, it's not a bloke, it's a company in England! It's called "SmartLocator" - it's an application for smartphone ... I am not talking about some guy ... I am talking about ..

Steve Lombardi: hmm, we have a guy on our staff, who has done it, his name s Chandu and he posted to his site a real time location application for smartphone .. OK it's different - you are talking about a commercial product I am talking about commercial product for UK only

Steve Lombardi: OK OK, so maybe you can continue, you are an evangelist of mapping solutions based on Microsoft technologies?

Steve Lombardi: yes! so could you tell about the new announcement related to this conference? maybe I will have some questions also!

Steve Lombardi: yes, sure! To be clear: so this is the new product we haven't announced yet - we have showed it, but we have not launched it yet. The launch is coming up soon. So it is not a product you can buy right now. We showed it at PDC actually, in Los Angeles 2 months ago. it will be available as a web service ?

Steve Lombardi: no, as a server product as server product?

Steve Lombardi: right it will be located at mobile operator's premises?

Steve Lombardi: not the mobile operator ! no, the enterprise. The whole purpose of this product is to location-enable enterprise and business applications, you know the operator already has access to their location gateway, so... let me give an example - a taxi company, that has 20 taxi drivers that go around the city.. they would like to build a dispatch center application ... call center that will let them see the real time position OK I understand, so could you explain how it works?

Steve Lombardi: sure it uses GPS then?

Steve Lombardi: no, not at all! It uses the mobile network. At high level what it does is it gets the location from the wireless operator network - I will explain that in a moment - our focus is on businesses... so like you turn on you Sprint phone in United States, they might have some application on it, to find nearest coffee shop, hotel, ... but the consumer doesn't want to pay for it, so we think, that the only way to jump start location based services is to enable enterprises, who can see real return on their investment ... enable them to build this real time location into sales work automation like where to find nearest McDonalds?

Steve Lombardi: no it's not the kind the application that I want to describe: the market we are going after are enterprise applications enterprises?

Steve Lombardi: exactly, ... market, commercial real estate, repair companies,... OK, I understand, like an enterprise having some warehouse, making deliveries from it, to locate their staff under way...

Steve Lombardi: yes but you say, that you have to buy some MapPoint Location Server...

Steve Lombardi: hmm [nods] ...application and install it in a server. Now question from point of view: where this location information comes from? how does it find where user is located?

Steve Lombardi: so it has plug-ins that run in the server... keep in mind: at lot this will make sense because I just skipped all the background information.. yeah.

Steve Lombardi: ... but this [points to a box in the picture on his notebook] should represent the customer's network, this should be the taxi company ... this is MapPoint location server, ... these applications, they talk to their server, the phone they provision to ... this is API ... for the different wireless operator network ... Vodafone... OK, OK, so I have a question: the most difficult technical issue is how to obtain that location , so you say "I have plug-ins, I don't care" , do you care about this?

Steve Lombardi: we don't care what background ...because there when you want to sell it to various markets, US, Europe, ... in US you may have some solution, but in Europe, what solution will you have with plug-ins?

Steve Lombardi: it's something that wireless operator has they have it?

Steve Lombardi: yes! so Vodafone today exposes the location API, the same O2.... but the problem is the developers don't have to talk to ... this [points to a box denoting MapPoint location server on the picture] is in the middle.. so if I am a developer, I don't know how to reach this network .. it is difficult ... so if you approach Vodafone so this is an additional layer between an operator and the user of web services?

Steve Lombardi: for the developer, yeah, yes so there is this SmartLocator application from a company from UK - it has its own server - it uses location API of Orange network, that Orange exposes, and exposing it to phone ... this is similar like this?

Steve Lombardi: well yes, different pieces, but this is specific to Orange, but if they want to use it on Vodafone, they will have to rewrite big chunk of their application for Vodafone... in our case we provide different plug-in so they don't have to change the application ... so they use plug-in for Orange network .. but enterprise has to be sure that their operator offers such plug-in?

Steve Lombardi: we take care about that, that's our job... we wouldn't do the plug-in... ... so for example if there is an enterprise in Germany and they want to use this solution, so they know this... so they need to pay to an operator some monthly fee and to you one-time fee?

Steve Lombardi: also monthly fee. also monthly fee to use it? but this server is located in an enterprise, they need to pay monthly fee?

Steve Lombardi: it's yearly fee ... it's monthly or yearly ... it's like a server license for SQL Server.. so they are something on the order of 12 dollars a year per device that you want to locate .. so if you have 100 truckers so it would be 100 times 12 are you ensuring that this location finding is really working so that there is no situation when they cannot find a truck ... you guarantee that it will work?

Steve Lombardi: yes, otherwise, there is no... we can't guarantee that something hasn't happen on the net... temporarily disconnection are beyond our control ... we partner closely with these guys ... to make sure.. OK, I understand

Steve Lombardi: we are talking about such types of applications which can be build with this: field source automation, fleet automation, ... so it is directed at enterprises?

Steve Lombardi: yes, 100 %, there is benefit though for the mobile operator, although we sell it to enterprise, mobile operator ... this position to get return on their equipment and it's costly and it's difficult to them to recoup that investment .. so now there is new way for them to monetize on that: Microsoft selling the location server in close partnership with operators you are providing complete solution? you have some agreements with the operators? so that enterprise that buys it doesn't have to care about relationship with operators? The enterprise buys this solution from Microsoft and gets this plug-in for local network

Steve Lombardi: they will stay pay to operator to access the location... to Microsoft directly?

Steve Lombardi: no, to the operator. The operator will definitely maintain the .. relationship with the enterprise. So it is implemented, remember, as a server product ... enterprise firewall , simple API, very simple actually so it's abstraction layer that developers can extend API ...

Steve Lombardi: yeah, across all networks, right. So if you work with MapPoint Web Service, think of it, as far as API goes, very simple engine for that is it secure????

Steve Lombardi: so all this communication between device and server , and server to the operator network is all encrypted and sent over HTTPs. Different operators have different APIs... but in all cases it gonna be secure... we will build the plug-in to talk to the network appropriately ... we will be secure plug-in all cases... as far as privacy .. users ... they have a client application that allows them to switch their location visibility on and off. So they can hide from various users they may say , OK during work... she is my manager she can see my location, but then I can turn her off at the end of the day there is some user management in it?

Steve Lombardi: yes I understand

Steve Lombardi: and of course it must be bought by enterprise, not by Microsoft, ... and this web service .. this piece by Microsoft, this piece by enterprise.. they have control over privacy policy so you say they have to pay monthly fee like one per

Steve Lombardi: per year ... we think of this as of monthly .. what are you providing for this? update?

Steve Lombardi: it's server???? much like SQL server has a service OK

Steve Lombardi: NSA, every year one question, so I will not forget it... you are talking that it is not supporting location based services for end users for free?

Steve Lombardi: of course it's not! The enterprise consumers expect it for free, but the enterprise have to pay for it so we are targeting the enterprise so if they would have to pay for the service so it would be free for the end user?

Steve Lombardi: their end users are their employees OK, so that's employees, it's not customers

Steve Lombardi: that's right, we're total focused on business solutions and the enterprise market?

Steve Lombardi: right, so... the MSN for example wouldn't be a customer for this first version of the product.. because they have a ... Ok, I understand ... ?? location

Steve Lombardi: real-time location, no we are definitely not targeting it for the first release. So from the application developer perspective they have an application up here .. there is an API get position call .. on the phone they want to look up... location service at that .. checks position, makes sure .. that person A has permission to get location of person B ... also make sure that temporarily the person B has not turned off their device ... you can ??? invoke the ??? plug-in and make the call through the wireless operator network to get location. Now what is going on here [points to operator network] ... we don't know about it - it varies from operator to operator, some are doing it by software, some using ??? GPS .. it's gonna vary. At the end of the day, no matter what they do they gonna return right ??? back to location server. Location server has a concept of notification engine as well so the user can be notified either by e-mail or by SMS that somebody tried to locate them. So the application developer can decide, OK, now I know where Erica's phone is located ??? driving directions, some kind of proximity search, they can make a call back to location server and say " I want to draw a map" that call can be sent over to the MapPoint web service last year was at this ITU conference in Switzerland, there were some guys from Vodafone and Microsoft was showing a use case where a tire is broken ... it was not launched yet

Steve Lombardi: yes, they actually asked us, in the keynote, they did it, they wanted to show it,... to show something in the keynote, that wasn't ready for another six months it was 2003

Steve Lombardi: yeah ... so now we have some screenshots here, I don't whether we have network connectivity.. to show you some demos [shows some pictures on the notebook] Seattle area?

Steve Lombardi: yes, so this one is Seattle... over here a downtown .. and this is San Francisco so in this presentation with Vodafone they used your solution?

Steve Lombardi: yes, but they didn't want to admit, to mention that simply the product name?

Steve Lombardi: yes, exactly , we didn't want to mention the "Microsoft MapPoint Location server" at ITU by name .. because it would imply that it is gonna be shipping during this Vodafone presentation... there was some memory stick -like device .. to get authentication?

Steve Lombardi: no, I am not familiar with that... so I can call this and I can draw a map, I can get driving directions... I would show you some demos but we don't have network connectivity here... so go ahead, you have some questions about MapPoint web service? yes, regarding MapPoint web service: could you just introduce it to me shortly? what does it do? is it running on your server? on Microsoft's server? and you have some countries covered ...

Steve Lombardi: yes ... and if user wants to use it, he has to pay for it?

Steve Lombardi: yes, definitely, it's commercial product ... commercial service?

Steve Lombardi: yes, and for developers there is no charge to sign up and start using it ... we actually are going to roll out new program very soon... and if the developer would like to offer some commercial application based on this...

Steve Lombardi: yes, once they have a commercial application is there some fixed price? or case by case?

Steve Lombardi: oh no! it's... it costs 8000 dollars for platform access which gives you half million transactions against the service 500 000 transactions on this MapPoint Web Service - $8,000.

Steve Lombardi: yes, that's the starting price - if it would be more transactions then you can purchase starting for a penny for transaction. More of them can bring it down to about half a penny for transaction. It has mapping, geocoding, reverse geocoding, ..., routing, proximity search.. in what countries it's available? only US?

Steve Lombardi: oh no! not at all! we have 21 countries available ... mostly in Europe and North America and we have just added Brazil when we just released the 3.5 OK, so if somebody makes application that uses it - they are calling server in Microsoft, in US?

Steve Lombardi: hmm [nods]

Steve Lombardi: same for Europe, our European customers are calling.. what with authentication?

Steve Lombardi: digest authentication - that's what we use. how does it work if a customer uses an insecure network ? what's with password?

Steve Lombardi: yes, you get your credentials... somebody could overhear that!

Steve Lombardi: no, digest uses encryption, so credentials aren't passed in plain text

Steve Lombardi: so here in my application [points to the source code in C# in a window in Visual Studio .NET] here is my password, my user ID ... and I got a map service, a routing service ... so under the hood we have the framework digesting authentication it has to go over HTTPS?

Steve Lombardi: the digest will be encrypted ... once you have been authenticated you make calls over regular HTTP or HTTPS... we have an option for that, so if you wanted to be 100% secure, so every call you make to the server can go over HTTPS.. some companies that aren't doing mission critical ??? are located??? like Starbucks ... they might save overhead of going over HTTPS and might go over HTTP.... so they got that option. Now, once the service is created here you can render a map??? down here... when my application loads I create a push pin, I send a message... for Europe.. I hard coded my location ... I zoomed my map to 1000 kilometers... I've made a push pin object ??? and I give it an icon, that I want to draw it so it's simple...

Steve Lombardi: very simple OK, would it be possible to use combination of MapPoint web service and this Microsoft's MapPoint Location Server for non-enterprise scenarios?

Steve Lombardi: like a consumer version? yeah, maybe an operator, service provider would like to differentiate by such offering, so they could provide such service to their users, so they can see each other

Steve Lombardi: yes... ??? at that point they don't gonna need MapPoint Location server, they would just use MapPoint Web Service, because they gonna get location from the network directly ???they would need the location server - they gonna get their location from their network and then use MapPoint web service to do the map drawing. so could you evangelize to Microsoft, that not only for enterprises, but also from the point of view of operators ...

Steve Lombardi: ... for operators we offer the .. operators need way to differentiate... you are upsetting a bit the operators, because operators would be reduced to dummy API providers . They don't offer any added value here.

Steve Lombardi: how so? operator would like to differentiate themselves...

Steve Lombardi: hmm [nods] ... and would like to provide something for mass customers

Steve Lombardi: they gonna differentiate themselves through their application, through the features that they build-in into their application they have to build it?

Steve Lombardi: oh, absolutely! or some third company?

Steve Lombardi: yes, well the Action Engine yeah, I was speaking to them, they have just some web service, that they're calling from the client

Steve Lombardi: they have full application that ... yeah, like your neighbor from Redmond - Action Engine - but I mean any company could provide solution for operators. Operators could buy this solution from third company, install it at their premises and offer it to end customers. For example somebody comes into radius of 500 meters and pop-up message appears...

Steve Lombardi: yes so this solution would be possible with this [points to picture of MapPoint Location Server] ?

Steve Lombardi: yes, but again it is engine used by this application - it is application level that operator can differentiate ... we gonna offer infrastructure that will show them on the map.. like, oh! here! somebody is over this corner - that kind of thing - we gonna this part really simple, but they will do the application layer yeah but question is whether you platform provides technical capability of notification when somebody comes into range, you platform can do this?

Steve Lombardi: hmm could show me the picture with architecture?

Steve Lombardi: of which product? location server? we were talking about [MapPoint] web service, not location server! it's different! I am talking about solution not about technicalities..

Steve Lombardi: hmm ... so there some people located here [points to side of picture, where consumers of location server's web service are] .. so how notification gets to them once they come into a range? how?

Steve Lombardi: so you would do that at the application level. You might have a database of all your users with real time location and the process is running in the background, which is continuing doing location look-up for each user. Then you have background proxy application, that says "OK, I have all these relationships set up" - person A, person B, person D - whenever when customer buys this product...

Steve Lombardi: which product? this MLS... is able to customize it?

Steve Lombardi: yes, but remember what I said: MLS wouldn't be used for the scenario, that you just have described. Remember: it enterprise focused... they can push???? customize it they want to do it for operator

Steve Lombardi: operator wouldn't need this tool. Operator would take the location server out and would just use the web service directly. Operator would write an application that monitors their back end, would take location server out. Certainly operator has access through their back end - they don't need this [points at MLS on the picture] piece. They can deal with their application talk to.. so what added value are you bringing here? Simple to access location ?

Steve Lombardi: yes, for the enterprise what about this coming into range? why can't you put into your Microsoft location server?

Steve Lombardi: sure so this [points to picture of MLS] has some API, that it can be detected, that somebody came into range of one kilometer of me?

Steve Lombardi: no! you would it back here [points to developer's part of MLS], so this guy does on thing.. so it is doing very small...

Steve Lombardi: it does quite a bit! [Erica laughs] it does what an enterprise can't do today. Right here [points to plug-in site of MLS] - acquires real time location from operator's network - it all it does - one thing. On top of that one feature you can do all the applications that you have just described, but if you take away this ability - you can't do any of those applications OK anyway you provide these plug-ins, you have agreements with operators and you offer some solution that works?

Steve Lombardi: that's right . What we say is that we have Visual Basic, C# or Java programmer doing in 5 minutes, what team of 10 developers by now would do in a year. the question is if you REALLY can do this coming into a range and it pops up notification about it...

Steve Lombardi: yes, I've actually done such application, you look at here... but????

Steve Lombardi: yes, so developer can do, on top of that platform - it's a platform, not an application - but a developer ...

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Steve Lombardi: hmm [nods] ... and ...

Steve Lombardi: that's just not our businesses - but we look to partners, to offer such applications. So Action Engine, Quality CSI??? so you are saying that Action Engine already did it?

Steve Lombardi: they've already done it. Yes. done what?

Steve Lombardi: the buddy-finding scenario, that we were talking about. coming into the range?

Steve Lombardi: yeah are they selling it?

Steve Lombardi: we haven't released the product [MLS] yet, but they have built it. They are in our Beta program. And they've built product with it very good!

Steve Lombardi: it's very simple... so this is my application and it uses back end, that I've setup here. for operators?

Steve Lombardi: yes, they want to sell it to the operators, they sell their application suite and the developed platform to the operators so you are saying that this Action Engine based in Redmond already has a solution based on MLS?

Steve Lombardi: yes and offers this thing, that another users is coming into the range, the user is notified?

Steve Lombardi: yes I love it!

Steve Lombardi: it's very simple to do - simple capability and the database stored that information ok, so maybe as one of the last things: you have released lately news version of MapPoint web service ?

Steve Lombardi: hmm [nods] do you have something specific to mobile phones, in the new version of the web service ?

Steve Lombardi: we got some new render styles.. yes, is it all?

Steve Lombardi: eh you know, because when user from mobile phone are from US, so you have this flat rate GPRS, you don't know that here in Europe it's very expensive and it's very important to reduce size of maps, so scaling is not done on the client, but on the server

Steve Lombardi: so here we are talking about... in the web service we got new render style for mobile devices... you are talking about the latest version of the web service ?

Steve Lombardi: yes, of the Web Service - 3.5 so what is it exactly? can you tell?

Steve Lombardi: sure, so we have render styles optimized for small devices, so they gonna look good on small screen displays. is it good for Microsoft smartphone ?

Steve Lombardi: yes, it's a style, that developer would chose in his application ... but it could be also realized previously by giving specific parameters to the methods?

Steve Lombardi: previously ? no! we didn't have, we just released this feature with this release but it could be worked around by calling methods and taking smaller piece of map?

Steve Lombardi: no! no. because it's a new style, so that algorithm is used to render the map - all different, so we... you are really providing smaller file? smaller graphic?

Steve Lombardi: the graphic itself is smaller, you can always chose, you can render the picture 2000 by 2000 pixels or 20 by 20 pixels - that's been always able to do, but with the same algorithm when you render 2000 by 2000, don't look good when rendering 20 by 20. Different line techniques, different colors - so that's all optimized for small screen display. So when developer says "I want to render a map that will fit on the smartphone" so he is saying "I want a map that will fit in 100 by 200 pixels, but I want it optimized with different algorithms, that it looks good as well". You know, it will be more readable. for fonts rendering it's using ClearType?

Steve Lombardi: I don't know. so from the point of view of mobile devices THIS was the most important addition ?

Steve Lombardi: yeah. anything else?

Steve Lombardi: yeah, there is new rendering for small devices. any new format?

Steve Lombardi: yeah, format wireless bitmap (WBMP) is now supported, as well as PNG, and ???? for BREW devices. Another great feature for mobile devices is finding along route. So finding along route: once the developer gets driving directions... along that route, to find thing within this buffer. So if I am driving from Cannes to Nice: I gonna take this route and within three miles of that route, I want to find all Wi-Fi hot spots, that are available - so now I have simple function to do that. It's great for mobile sales person... but why do you say that it is specific for mobiles?

Steve Lombardi: sure you can use it anywhere where MapPoint web service works, but we think it's gonna be popular feature for mobiles. OK, it's good for mobiles. it's the new one? new feature ?

Steve Lombardi: these are all enhanced features... and this one is brand new. when this thing [points to the picture of MLS] will be ready?

Steve Lombardi: We will announce it soon. We have a launch coming up for North America, shortly after that we have a launch for Europe as well. roughly speaking when? this year, next year?

Steve Lombardi: oh, definitely this year! Very soon actually. good to hear that these enterprise solutions can be also used for end users, with third company... so this solution is server side solution?

Steve Lombardi: yes. is there anything that this solution has that indicates, that it would be better to use Microsoft smartphone than some Java phone? Because some simple Java phone can also access web service.

Steve Lombardi: sure. so is there any differentiation with Microsoft smartphone ?

Steve Lombardi: no, the web service will work equally fine. Any environment, where you can call it. but how the notification goes from MLS to the consumer of the web service ? to mobile user, how it goes?

Steve Lombardi: over network connection simply polling it? periodically querying the web service?

Steve Lombardi: sure, whenever you need it no, no, no! When another user, your friend for example, is coming into the area of Seattle and would like to get the notification, so how do you get such notification ? how it goes to you terminal.

Steve Lombardi: could be however developer decided to solve it, send SMS, email you mean in the server side?

Steve Lombardi: how would my application send the notification ? in MLS there is Microsoft part, and there is developer part and I am interested how the terminal will get the notification, that somebody came into the range?

Steve Lombardi: oh, however.. it's up to the developer. it's not part of the solution ?

Steve Lombardi: no! no at all. We can use SMS to send it, over SMTP server send e-mail what about scalability of your MLS?

Steve Lombardi: each instance of MLS server can support up to 5 000 simultaneous users with 5 000 users you can handle any traffic? any number of notifications, queries?

Steve Lombardi: if the wireless operator has the bandwidth, our server will be able to handle it. Maybe that the wireless network isn't set up for such number of transactions. so beyond 5 000 you can't handle?

Steve Lombardi: right, we don't cluster our servers in version 1. That's something we may introduce in future. So again it's not a consumer focused where you have hundreds of thousands.

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