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These articles were prepared for the November 29, 2000 edition of
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Promise of Wireless: Location-Based Info
by Douglas Dixon
What should we do tonight? Where should we go for
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
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
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
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. (www.geeps.com), is working towards this promise by
products that provide the technological infrastructure required to
support these kinds of services.
This is the transformation from E-commerce to M-commerce (mobile
"The marketplace has survived since the dawn of the man,"
says Arshad Masood, president and COO of GeePS. "We are
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
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
focused on retail," says Goren. "We provide the dynamic
between merchants and consumers that doesn’t exist in the physical
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
GeePS has announced several strategic alliances and its first
for these products.
In August, GeePS announced the signing of Liberty USA, a West Mifflin,
Pennsylvania, wholesaler that supplies packaged goods to 1,500
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
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.
GeePS’ first mall customer is Palisades Center, an
four-level shopping mall with 220 stores and 10 sit-down restaurants
in West Nyack, New York. The center will use mobile commerce
for wireless delivery of targeted, local shopping information and
news to consumers (www.palcen.com). Fifty retailers went online on
November 13. "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
on its website or through kiosks in the mall and indicate the general
categories and individual stores from which they want to receive
messages. "Customers will have the ability to not only find
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
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,"
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 (see Location Based Services on page tktk).
The future of mobile Internet access is even more visible overseas.
Mobile phone use is exploding around the globe, not only in the
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.
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
a lower level of accuracy for civilian and commercial use. G.P.S.
receivers have become widely available, for providing driving
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
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."
Given that all these technology components will fall into place —
ubiquitous mobile Web service, E-911 location positioning, and
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
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
The wireless edition of NJO went online in October
and includes a demo of how the service actually looks on a wireless
phone. The NJO service will offer local news headlines, weather
sports scores, and stock quotes, as well as location-based shopping
"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
It makes the Internet an application for small businesses
"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
NJO began a test of this approach this summer by providing
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
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
online, so the content is already available to translate for wireless
access. "There are no technology requirements for the
says Tuccillo. "Initially we were doing the work for the
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, Inc.,
part of the Newhouse chain of newspapers in 22 cities including the
Star Ledger and the Times of Trenton, as well as the Conde Nast
and Parade. Advance Internet, working with Advance Publications’
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.
"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 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 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
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 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 (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. "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
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. "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. It
was a combination which was the right time and the right place."
Masood grew his company with no outside funding.
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. Traditional IP was becoming stale
to Masood. "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
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
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 Cedar Brook Corporate
Center, but recently it moved into a separate 3,000 square foot office
in the same complex and now has about 23 employees.
"GeePS has a team of its own now," says Masood, "so
I believe that my job is pretty much done. I’ll be withdrawing from
a role in GeePS and going back to Visionet."
Visionet, which recently opened a West Coast office, now has
50 employees, with 15 employees in 6,000 square feet in Cranbury,
20 employees 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. The types of opportunities, the
to capital, the environment, the people around you, the ease of
employees, the ideas, and the acceptance are much broader in
One of the reasons Visionet has the office there is that I want to
spend more time there."
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
Mobile phones and the E-911 locating service do raise privacy issues,
since the cellular provider, and therefore authorized government
can track your movements from your cell phone. The use of this
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
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
and save location-based information for a specific city, including
restaurants, shopping, and maps. With the additional effort of
entering your current location, you can also access similar
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
a critical mass of location-based information. "We provide the
whole infrastructure," 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 a 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."
Center, Cranbury 08512. Andy Goren, CEO. 609-409-8484; fax,
Brook Corporate Center, Cranbury 08512. Aezaz Hussain, CEO.
fax, 609-655-5232. Home page: www.visionetsystems.com
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