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Sightseeing with your personal mobile guide

It's easy to spot foreign tourists, their noses buried in weighty guides. But multimedia devices - offering location-based content and personalised adverts - may soon replace these books and generate significant revenue for mobile operators as trial results revealed.

Text and photographs crowd the pages of tourist guides. Yet one in five visitors abroad can't be bothered to buy one and fewer still use them every time they travel. Figures such as these convinced partners in the IST project LoVEUS that today's travellers want more for their money. The project's multimedia solution to guidebook fatigue runs on personal digital assistants (PDAs) and mobile phones. By tracking a user's exact location and orientation, these devices can offer exciting new tourism-type services. They include a guided city tour, photos and videos, and even tailored adverts. Services are delivered over the Internet and mobile phone networks. They call on several servers, which host the LoVEUS application as well as software for pinpointing users and delivering the multimedia. Trials took place in central Athens, Greece, in late 2003. "The city has great cultural and tourist significance," notes project coordinator Michalis Karagiodis, "because it has both ancient sites and modern facilities. It was a perfect proving ground for our application." Volunteers carried PDAs. These had a fast mobile connection (2.5G) card and were linked by cable to a global positioning system (GPS) device. At any time users could look up points of interest - such as Hadrians Arch or the Parliament building - and download text, JPEG images or MPEG4 videos describing them. They could check their location on the on-screen map or navigate their way round the city. They could see panoramas of famous Syntagma Square or view archaeological sites in their former splendour, thanks to 3D reconstructions or 'augmentations'. "Our system uniquely brings together different technologies in one device, covering tourism, culture and commercial applications," says Karagiodis. "People liked to see their position on the map, with up to three-metre accuracy, and the 360-degree panoramic views. The personalised adverts were also popular, locating for example the nearest pharmacy, café or shop." Trials were not carried out with the fastest mobile Internet connections, so video was sometimes slow. Karagiodis says 3G phones can deliver more fluid images. On the other hand, most users said they prefer the larger screen on PDAs. "Future devices will need better audio and video encoding, both governed by download time and file size," he says. "Our bandwidth mediation module guarantees the quality of the experience, even advising users against watching video when available bandwidth is low." Cost is a crucial factor, he notes: "We found people will happily accept adverts if they can pay just two euros a day for our services. Twice that without ads." He believes location-based services (LBS) will only become cost-effective when different wireless networks - including wireless LAN - operate together. This was a conclusion of the first-ever LBS technology solution roadmap for Europe, the United States and Asia, a report recently produced by the project partners. Several museums in Greece will soon use the LoVEUS platform, via project partner Intracom. The coordinator also foresees success for the bandwidth mediation module among mobile network operators offering multimedia content. Contact:,Michalis Karagiodis,Intracom S.A.,Corporate Marketing and International Operations Unit,Emerging Technologies & Markets Department,19.5 Km Markopoulo Avenue (Building A1),P.O. Box 68,GR-190 02 Peania,Athens,Greece,Tel: +30-210 667 7831,Fax: +30-210 667 1312,Email: karam@intracom.grPublished by the IST Results service which brings you online ICT news and analysis on the emerging results from the European Commission's Information Society Technologies research initiative. The service reports on prototype products and services ready for commercialisation as well as work in progress and interim results with significant potential for exploitation.