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What Uber Might Use in Place of Nokia's Here Mapping Technology

Uber needs independence from Google. Here are its options.

Roberto A Sanchez / iStock

Ride-hailing service Uber may no longer be in contention to buy Nokia’s Here mapping technology, according to a recent Reuters report, and if so, that means it will need to find a different way to sustain its mapping ambitions.

There are immediate and practical reasons for the company to buy or create its own mapping technology. Its ride-sharing service, UberPool, for example, often can’t properly put together passengers for its routes, costing the company money.

And for the moment, it’s stuck relying on a blend of Google Maps and other sources. That’s problematic for a number of reasons. The real-time updates aren’t accurate enough, and perhaps more importantly, Google and Uber are slowly becoming competitors since both are building self-driving cars.

Uber needs independence from Google and a mapping technology to use in its stead — that’s what Nokia’s Here property would allow for. Without it, though, here are Uber’s other options:

  • Buy TomTom, a Here competitor that houses a team of engineers who specialize in mapping. Unfortunately, TomTom currently has a market value of 2.2 billion euros ($2.5 billion), so if Uber is unable to buy Here for a similar sum, it’s unlikely to snap up TomTom.
  • License Here’s data from the eventual buyer. Uber doesn’t have to own the property itself to use the mapping information. Of course, that would put Uber back in the position of having to rely on a competitor. The German car consortium that appears to be leading in the competition for Here — BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen — won’t be Uber’s best friend once Uber gets a fleet of self-driving cars on the road.
  • Rely on open source data tool OpenStreetMap. OpenStreetMap is like Wikipedia for maps — its collection of knowledge is owned by no one and created by the masses who submit mapping corrections and updates. Uber could tap this resource, but some critics say it’s not as accurate as those that are privately owned.
  • Build its own. This may very well be what Uber is doing. Last month it bought part of Bing’s mapping assets, mostly for the purpose of hiring the 100 Microsoft engineers who specialize in mapping technology. This is the second of only two public acquisitions Uber has ever made, the first being the deCarta map company in March. It also recently hired away Google’s former head of maps. With a small army of engineers, Uber may be aiming to develop its own mapping system so it doesn’t have to rely on others or shell out billions for its own. That would fit Uber’s culture, which has always been one of self-sufficiency.

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