Oct 11

Nat Torkington

Nat Torkington

Google Maps and Their Data Providers

Never assume it's easy to bring a free API to fruition. Check out Google Maps as web app versus Google Maps as API. Notice something different about the two maps? The former has "map data (c) NAVTEQ" whereas the latter has "map data (c) TeleAtlas". In the past, both API and consumer maps credited both companies, but it's a safe bet that Google has had a battle with NAVTEQ to offer their free API. The provider changed occurred around October 4 and prompted a discussion on the developer list about the greater number of errors in the TeleAtlas tiles (e.g., "In Tele Atlas you don't get the Statue of Liberty. In Navteq you don't get the bridge that goes to Ellis Island", " it labels "Holy Ghost" Hospital in Cambridge which changed its name in 1988 to Youville Hospital").

For comparison sake, Yahoo! have only NAVTEQ on the consumer and API maps, although "API" is perhaps too strong a word for the current Yahoo! offering. MSN Virtual Earth have NAVTEQ on the front end and their back end APIs, though their back end is strongly coupled to their MapPoint Web Services product which is commercial. The absence of a commercial offering from Google might be the sticking point--they're all about the free.

The problem is that NAVTEQ spends a lot of money to get the most accurate data on the streets and roads, and they make most of their money selling routing (directions) through in-car navigation systems. I bet NAVTEQ wish they had a dollar for every time a prospective customer came to them expecting Google Maps-style driving directions to be free. Oh wait, they do. Every set of driving directions you get from Google Maps (or Yahoo! Maps, or MapQuest) represents real money in the pocket of NAVTEQ--they charge per route. Google, Yahoo!, MapQuest, and others are all eating those charges when they offer the service to you for free, planning to make it back on advertising and related travel services.

It would appear (and I'm reading this from the outside, as neither Google nor NAVTEQ can talk about their negotiations with each other) that NAVTEQ doesn't mind the traditional model of portals paying to offer consumers driving directions. What they're not comfortable with is offering free API calls. The biggest threat to a data business is free access to the data, at least that's how NAVTEQ must see it. A free API like the Google API lowers the perceived value of the data.

What's interesting is that TeleAtlas appear to be comfortable with that model. In the US, NAVTEQ is the big company, TeleAtlas the upcoming challenger. Those of you familiar with The Innovator's Dilemma will know that it's hard for incumbents to innovate outside their existing product line. In particular, they can't turn their cash cow into steaks. If you're fighting for business, though, you don't have the burden of an existing business model to protect.

The trend is towards the commoditization of geographic information and services. Maps are already perceived as free because they're available for free as applications and services. Geocoding is edging toward freedom, with routing hot on its heels. I'd love to be a fly on the wall at the Google, Yahoo!, MapQuest, Microsoft, et al. negotiations with their data providers to hear the conversations around those services.

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Comments: 29

  David Megginson [10.11.05 01:42 PM]

The answer is open geodata. The U.S. has already gone a long way towards that, and (I think) the government publishes free data down to the street level, though not as good as the commercial stuff. The rest of the world is far, far behind, (most governments, including mine in Canada, hoard geodata and license it at a ridiculous price) so the biggest challenge is going to be coming up with good enough geodata outside the U.S. In fact, right now, nearly all the free geodata that is available for Canada comes from the U.S. government.

  Brock [10.11.05 04:55 PM]

I disagree with David. As long as the USA has generated this geodata for their own reasons, sure, share away. However, there is a commercial need and a commercial means of answering that need. Since there's no "natural monopoly" problem here, "the answer" is already before us: TeleAtlas. Static driving direction sites like Mapquest are the past, while open API's are the future (as all of the Map Hack websites demonstrate). TeleAtlas will eat into NAVTEQ's business, attract more money, and upgrade the quality of their data. NAVTEQ will either come around to the new model, move into a different business, or file for bankruptcy (or least like but most interesting, skip right to Web 3.0).

Non-US governments could release their geodata, helping to jumpstart Local Search in their countries, or they could wait for the US corporation who wins this battle to come in and do it for them. If I were a Canadian voter though, I'd ask my gov't rep why data paid for with my tax money isn't freely available to me.

  Alistair [10.12.05 06:44 AM]

"If I were a Canadian voter though, I'd ask my gov't rep why data paid for with my tax money isn't freely available to me."

Same issue in the UK. Ordnance Survey is a UK government agency which jealously hoards the data we paid for through our taxes. Something like my site gTraffic.info would be impossibly expensive to put together if Google did not provide their API and map.

  Tad [10.12.05 07:15 AM]

Brock, are you kidding us. look at the comments on the google developer api that is linked in the article above http://groups.google.com/group/Google-Maps-API/browse_thread/thread/57455b93bec19bbd/31fd56ceba8b7a93?lnk=raot
all of the map hacks developers say that this tele atlas data is too low of a quality to work for anything.

  Sourabh Niyogi [10.13.05 05:44 AM]

We have run some tests comparing 3 geocoders using FEMA ground truth data points. While the Navteq data is more accurate than some other popular free geocoding services, Navteq does not by any means achieve a level of "emergency-grade" accuracy, being well off more than 100 ft at least 50% of the time and only 30ft closer to ground truth on a typical address than the free geocoders.

Our test report is at:
It is based on a very small but representative sample of 53 addresses.

The method of data collection Navteq currently uses does not address the geocoding of addresses head-on, and it is quite possible for a decentralized "bazaar" method of data collection, perhaps supported by the search engines and end-users with GPS devices, to assume a greater level of accuracy than the "cathedral" method that both Navteq and Teleatlas employ.

  Vector One [10.16.05 02:25 PM]

Interesting viewpoints. I would have to disagree on a few points.

1-- "The trend is towards the commoditization of geographic information and services."

This is far from being an accurate fact. The trend toward online maps has grown, but maps through browsers is not wholly respresentative of all geographic information use, which is much more varied than online maps alone.

2-- "The biggest threat to a data business is free access to the data." Not necessarily. The biggest threats to a data business are poor quality data and conducting business with only one primary customer. If for whatever reason that customer ceases to exist, then the business is jeopardized.

On another note, I wonder why someone has not figured out a way to measure 'data quality' consistently yet.

I would like to know what the 'bazaar' and 'cathedral' data collection methods are. Is there a place to learn about those?

  Tim LePes [10.17.05 09:00 AM]

Vector, Sourabh was referring to "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" by Eric S. Raymond. It was a paper talking about the development model for Linux and Open Source software projects (bazaar) versus the traditional model (cathedral). You can read it online here...


Story goes that this paper made it to the CEO's of Netscape's short reading list and influenced the decision they made to open their browzer. We now have Mozilla thanks to that brave corporate decision.


  ChrisK [11.08.05 01:31 PM]

"all of the map hacks developers say that this tele atlas data is too low of a quality to work for anything."

I think this is a pretty funny comment coming from folks that are using the map data for free - especially because TeleAtlas is clearly making a business selling their data to paying customers.

I lived this in another life when I built the transportation system at Webvan. There was a remarkable difference between the data from NVT and TA - and it wasn't at all clear cut who would be better in what region. In Atlanta, the new construction was going on so fast that the Post Office couldn't keep up, much less the map vendors. The ground truth just wasn't available in any digital form.

Open Geodata is being tried in India right now, among other places. The Indian government has recently changed their policy on the availability of civilian geodata; it will be interesting to see how it works out. I remain skeptical that a bazaar process can work for collecting accurate geodata of the type that the Google Maps API developers are looking for and complaining about, but I'd be more than happy to be proven wrong.

  Attila Sandor Fiko [12.14.05 05:43 AM]

In the early days, there were no road maps available, at least not in digital format and not at all for in-vehicle navigation. In Europe, the very first navigational databases for vehicles was related by Bosch and Philips, which had a large interest in new navigational database standard and navigational software developments. Their system was named GDF or Geographical Data File where the two companies together founded a consortium named EDRA or European Digital Road Association and EGT or European Geographic Technologies.

Later on they established three new companies namely Bosch Data where they geo-referenced and built digital street map databases for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The other company was TeleAtlas that did the street maps for all Benelux countries and at last ETAK that did United Kingdom and the USA. Since then all three companies has merged into TeleAtlas.

In the meantime, Philips did establish a company named EGT that did build its database based upon licence from the US Company, Navtech or Navigation Technologies where Philips was one of the largest investors in Navtech. Later on, EGT took over the Navtech name that in 2004 was changed to Navteq. Since then the two companies are both market leaders and in deep competition to each other.

Even thought both companies are using the GDF as basis for their database format, both of them are using different techniques for recording their data and in this way they are not compatible with each other – maybe good for them, but bad for the consumers.

Because both TeleAtlas and Navteq has strong relationship to the early developments of navigational databases and navigational software for vehicles, we could see that TeleAtlas or Bosch that comes from the automobile markets was via its daughter company Blaupunkt using the TravelPolot navigational system for its maps and navigational databases while Navteq was distributing its maps and databases for the Phillips-developed system named CARIN or Car Information and Navigation.

The competition between the two reveals at one point was so strong that i.e. Blaupunkt and TeleAtlas did work side-by-side in the same building in Hildesheim, Germany.

In the early 90’s carmakers started mass production of navigational systems that was built into cars. BMW did use the CARIN system and in 1994 BMW did launch this for its luxury models as extra accessories for its customers. They did of course use the Navteq navigational databases. Mercedes and Audi on their hand did choose Blaupunkt’s TravelPilot system that used TeleAtlas.

Most of the cars built in the 90’s used TravelPilot-types as navigational systems where on that time was considered as absolutely the best. In the meantime, Blaupunkt did develop a new system platform named TravelPilot DX, which brought dynamic navigation into the markets. Still the two systems were less compatible with each other, also because they use different database compression techniques. Take instance a old complete German map system used three CD’s to fit, the new TravelPilot DX uses only one CD.

In built-in navigation systems supplied by the car manufactures, i.e. Mercedes COMAND, Audi Navigation Plus or Volkswagen MCD, MFD – from outside you can’t tell which one of them are based on TravelPilot or which one is using TravelPilot DX. Even thought, from 2000 they only supplied their vehicles with TravelPilot DX, it’s still important to know the exact time when the car was produced when new navigational CD’s are bought.

For the TravlePilot and TravelPilot DX, only TeleAtlas can supply their maps and databases. Out of this it was only the 2002 French CD that was unique as Navteq managed to supply a better quality map database of France, but TeleAtlas was fast to beat its rival by improving it’s French database and again did win the trust from car manufacturers.

In the meantime Blaupiunkt got more behind in the developments. In new features and in terms of navigational systems it was a important turn that car manufacturers then looked at other partners and in this way for Mercedes S class Mercedes did choose Siemens, while Mercedes E class and the new Audi A8 did choose the Becker system where all three of them was based on DVD’s.

Beside this, it’s Becker that at present is manufacturing the best radio-navigation system that more and more car manufacturers are building into their vehicles. Since the back fall from Blaupunkt, the European market for in-vehicle navigation has opened up for other players and beside Becker, from early 2004, Audi did introduce the Japanese manufactured Aisin brand for its middle-class models that until now was only supplied to Toyota’s Lexus models.

Because TeleAtlas did never supply these navigation systems with their map databases, in this way Navteq was lucky enough to introduce its products to markets that was dominated by TeleAtlas, but maybe not for long. From the 4th quarter 2004, TeleAtlas are also making its databases available on DVD for both Becker and Siemens systems too and we guess from there on also Mercedes will move back to it’s former map supplier.

The Philips CARIN system did also undergo interesting changes as the Philips Car Systems, the CARIN system developer, after changing hands many times ended up with the Siemens VDO team and the CARIN name in the meantime was changed to VDO Dayton, where the new developments are 100% compatible with the earlier CARIN system.

So as a summary of this “mess”, Navteq is using the VDO Dayton platform, and so do Tele Atlas?

The VDO Dayton navigation system used by BMW, Citroen, Renault, Rover and in older Opel models, by factory configuration are supplied with Navteq maps but to confuse this even more, it’s today also possible to choose TeleAtlas maps for the same systems.

Beside the VDO Dayton, Siemens did also develop its navigation system that we can find in i.e. Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Porsche and all Opel models manufactured after 1999 as well as in Mercedes S class.

Even thought VDO Dayton and Siemens VDO belongs to the same group, they are still not compatible with each other and to complicate the case even more, Siemens systems one from another are even less compatible as in this way we can’t even try to use a Opel navigational CD in Alfa Romeo.

Most of the carmakers today does not commit themselves to one common navigation platform where they even are using different navigation platforms for different models too, and not only that, they might, during the year, change from one system to another within the same model

The content of navigational maps CD’s can’t be updated or be ready on a daily basis, therefore it takes several months before a new CD is released. Also when it is released, it’s already a several months old database contained on the CD or DVD – for sure not the very latest one. Because both Navteq and TeleAtlas databases are not compatible with each other, there is a need to convert such data into car manufacturers own database format.

The car manufacturer does the translation task together with software developers that made this translation software. This task is extremely costly and time-consuming process, not talking about the Quality Assurance and testing that has to be conducted there after. In this way, the case of a country CD database production may take as much as 3 months before it’s released while a Europe DVD may take as much as 6 months before it’s ending up in car navigation systems.

Because of the high costs involved it’s understandable why it takes 3, 6 or up-to 12 months before CD's and DVD's are released, but for sure, during this period also more car has been sold and therefore more people would purchase the newer databases - meaning more money for the car manufacturers too.

For navigation systems that are originally supplied and installed in new cars, it does happen that the car manufacturers and others does the software translation of the databases, if they got this translation software, so i.e. for BMW navigation systems that is based on VDO Dayton, there is four other software companies that are offering navigation software to be used in BMW’s. For BMW and the VDO Dayton navigational maps, they buy the map data from Navteq, in this way it happens that for map database and software for a Renault we can safely buy and use map navigation system from BMW. Beside this, VDO Dayton are separately converting both Navteq and TeleAtlas data into it’s own systems that they then sell under their own branding.

For the Far East, car manufacturers like Toyota, ISUSU, Mazda and Nissan, are all buying their maps direct from car manufacturers divisions.

If we look at an overall picture of the car industry and the issues of car navigation and map systems, today it looks like it’s not moving closer to standardisation. While in the early days, it looked like that look-alike navigation platforms, maps was interchangeable and this is also through today with the Blaupunkt, VDO Dayton and Magneti Marelli systems. However the newer platforms from Siemens and Becker are not CD-compatible with each other and i.e. Mercedes are using two kind of navigation systems both are based on Becker but both uses different formats and therefore are also offering two kind of CD’s. So while before, many people thought that as in-vehicle navigation is spread out, the maps and upgrades would be cheaper, but this has gone in the opposite directions even thought the prices from both TeleAtlas and Navteq is gone down in price, the price of converting these map data has gone up and as the systems are not compatible with each other, more and more conversions are needed, adding to the end-user’s bill.

One light in the tunnel was in 1997-1999 where there was trials on a standardisation format and in this Navteq did reached to develop the SDAL or Shared Data Access Library which is (was) a platform independent system, where the goal was that for the SDAL conversion, Navteq is doing this on their own and would licensing the compiler software to system manufacturers. In this way there would be no more need for further conversion because any SDAL map formats would be compatible with each other.

During the wait, it still did not get popular and only a few carmakers like Mazda (Panasonic), SAAB and Citroen (Clarion AutoPC) used it. The reason to this was that navigation system manufacturers make a lot of money on converting software and databases and therefore they like to do this on their own and they don't want to leave such lucrative revenues. Therefore as a conclusion, we can’t really see that map databases will be any cheaper in the near future.

Google with its power for sure will have their hands on map-technologies, the question is if TeleAtlas and Navteq can coup with the “free movement”. As far as I know, also Navteq started its carrier by “taking” nav-data from other sources and compiled this into their own database structure. Our company Fiko Software Co. Ltd. http://www.gnss-tech.com has for more then 5 years worked within GNSS (mostly aviation) and are currently developing our own independent vector map API for the simple reason that dealing with geo-data for navigation purposes is not at all an simple task.

  Anonymous [02.06.06 08:51 AM]

Please remove the above address from your mailing list ASAP!!!!

  alberto zannato [04.25.06 06:33 PM]

I looking to find the maps and soft of Argentina or South America, for my gps navigation system in my VW Touareg (made by blaupunkt) The ´oficials´ providers, navteq and teleatlas do not make the maps of my country, Can you help me on finding any way to buy them or to convert another maps in a compatible one that let the system work?? Thank you very much. Alberto.

  gontek [05.12.06 11:50 AM]

USA creates all of this data, and I bet that the NGA is the driving force. If there is a good data source out there, the NGA has it, and pretty much keep it to themself under Posse Comitatus. They also limit what accuracy can be purchased commercially from satellites. Our Taxes are paying for the NGA - know what their budget is? Classified, but I bet it is a lot. I have found many instances in emergency situations where their data could be invaluable, but they keep it close at all times.

  MP Slavov [05.25.06 03:14 AM]

I have a GPS FineDrive 500 Navigation System I bought in the United States. Could you tell me if there is a map available for Europe
Thank you in advance for your help

  rboreiko [06.10.06 02:00 PM]

Haa anyone tried looking up an address on Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft and found that the data provided by Navteq is off by 1 or 2 blocks, and in some cases up to half a mile?

  Francis Bowen [06.13.06 06:16 PM]

I have purchased 2 sets of GPS software for my laptop, and the 2 are about 4 year behind on street updates for the area I live in. I would like to see the companies tell the date of the last map update, not there engine update.

  Nuti [08.07.06 11:44 AM]

Does anyone know how to convert other map format to Navman SmartST Map. I happen to be in Bangkok but Navman does not have Bangkok Map for sales. I have contact their several sales support but none responses. I have ICN510 if it does not work I will probably seel it off.
Thank you,

  josephine Fitzhenry [08.22.06 12:01 PM]

I would'nt want to be lost in Ireland and depending on google maps I would end up in the UK as thats all it seams to recognise as placenames. O'Reilly a lovely irish name can you help me or have you forgotton home already?

  lewis [08.27.06 10:12 AM]

Free open source map data will never
be high quality because of accuracy, consistency, coverage, and cost of
developement, distribution, etc.
People think free (as in maps)but so
do the
customers of of Google, etc.
Most end users could care less.
Data collection, maintanance and
all what goes into large databases
is anything but free, but the suppliers like the the idea it could be.
I guess it could be if you got unlimited free labor and free technical equipment as
These people in turn would need free
food and shelter unless independently

  Lou Orlando [08.29.06 05:13 AM]

Can we get an uodate article on "Google Maps and Their Data Providers Permalink"
By nat on October 11, 2005 ?
Perhaps comparing usage value of each.
...or did I miss it?
Lou Orlando

  Boomtrek Travel Maps [08.31.06 09:26 PM]

I used geocoder.ca for all my Canadian data and www.ontok.com for my United States records, does anyone know which one they back-end on and how accurate they are? The thought of redo'n records is annoying at this point, since I paid!! (This is pre-geocoding open source/freebie movement) Recently I've integrated Google API for geocoding into my maintenance app, but the only sucky thing is that it doesn't do outside Canada/USA... oh well, what did we do before computers? :)

  Rnjit [09.10.06 03:18 AM]

I just boght a Becker Traffic assist highspped with maps for europe. But I can;t find maps for any other area lie the US or Australi , to buy.
Any idea where I can buy them or if the yare avaialble at all.

  Ssnowrider [10.12.06 08:23 PM]

Interesting to me that my Mercedes navigation system cost like crazy to update and still is not as accurate or as detailed as the very inexpensive Delorme Street Atlas ... wish I could load it into the car's system.

  apr [11.20.06 07:58 PM]

I am not sure where the author is coming up with his information. TeleAtlas is no more willing to give away their data than Navteq. Navteq could care less if Google gave away their very high level API, so long as every time a map is generated they get a small royalty. If the API allowed someone to copy the raw geographic data from the database, then they would be concerned, but TeleAtlas would never allow that either.

  MDX2007 [12.15.06 06:28 AM]

Is there any ground thruth data that I can test accuracy of couple of Geocoders?
Please advise.

  suryakant [02.08.07 05:31 AM]

I want to create Map using google API.please send me idea of that.

suryakant karande

  Werner [06.03.07 03:37 PM]


With my new TravelPilot Lucca MP3 Edition from Blaupunkt which I bought in Europe travelling within Europe is very easy with the maps on a memory stick.

Now back in USA I tried to buy the US maps for my navigation device but was not successful so far. Even Blaupunkt US told me that there is not US map on a DVD available right now. This is not understandable because the US Blaupunkt devices come with US maps on the memory car. So why not copy past??

Can anybody help me to find somebody who is willing to exchange the maps. A european against a US map. IF exchange is not an option I would pay for it.

Thanks for your feedback in advance.


  Live Free [10.04.07 01:47 PM]

Free is nice. Why doesn't google allow free advertising or free ranking on their search engine? The free model ends with a $.

As far as navigating by bazaar collected map data. Have fun.

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  John Metcalfe [07.01.08 12:34 AM]

This is a worldwide agreement so comments on the innovators dilemma do not hold because Tele Atlas has a lot to lose in Europe. I believe Tele Atlas gets the concept of map ubiquity and sees the upside in multi millions of people using their maps on PC's and mobile devices.

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