Dial 911 from your home phone and the police will know your precise address. But dial it from your mobile phone and they have very little idea where you are. Since mobile phone penetration in the U.S. is greater than 75%, and is greater than 100% in Western Europe, Japan, and Hong Kong, this is a problem.
Luckily there are smart people already addressing the issue. Rave Mobile Safety, for example, started off helping universities broadcast messages to their students. If classes are canceled tomorrow because of a snowstorm, then a university can send out an email and text message immediately to all students' mobile phones, regardless of what carrier or type of handset that student uses.
But Rave Mobile soon learned that innovators do not always win. If you enter a new market space and make it too easy for competitors to copy you, they will. Rave Mobile soon found copycat competitors encroaching on their turf.
So the company stepped back and asked itself, "What assets could we leverage to pursue a truly disruptive opportunity?" They recognized they had two unique assets. First, they had developed relationships with all mobile phone service providers. This is important because if you are sending out an emergency message you don't want only Blackberry users or only people with iPhones to be able to get the news.
Secondly, Rave Mobile had close relationships with university police departments. As the company began exploring their growth opportunities they learned that most of these university police departments also operated the local 911 phone service. These two insights revealed a "natural sideways step into an area in which we could bring a lot of value," explained Tom Axbey, Rave Mobile Safety's CEO.
Rave Mobile is coordinating assets and modernizing the 911 phone system. "The 911 infrastructure was really built on landline infrastructure. It relies on people calling from landline phones for us to be able to tell where they are calling from. But 60 to 70% of calls today come from mobile devices," Tom explains.
Government sectors, and particularly 911 centers, which are understandably sensitive to tinkering, have been slow to adopt many of the innovations embraced on the private side. Rave Mobile is helping them catch up.
In my opinion, what's interesting about Rave Mobile's strategy is that, just like the company I reviewed last week FedBid, Rave Mobile is not trying to be a disruptive business around its technology. Sure, it owns patents, and has developers working hard to improve its coding, but Rave Mobile recognizes that the true advantage comes from coordinating the uncoordinated.
Rave Mobile is building a nationwide database of voluntarily provided information from mobile phone users throughout the country. If you sign up for Rave Mobile service, which is free, you will be invited to share the information you would like a 911 operator to know about you in the case of an emergency. Of course you want them to know your name and perhaps your home address. But you may also want them to know the name of your spouse or your children. It may also be useful for them to know what medicines you are allergic to and what medical conditions you have.
The endgame that Rave Mobile appears to be playing is the creation of the definitive database for 911 services.
The company is not alone; it has competitors. And whenever a company gathers personal information, concern always arises around its security. But Rave Mobile is ahead of the wave, and if it makes the right moves it could follow a path similar to that of Google or Microsoft in developing and owning a critical piece to a puzzle of worldwide significance.
In the near-term, Rave Mobile seems to enjoy some competitive protection because "public safety is not viewed as a hot area right now. Entrepreneurs and investors are focused on social networking," Tom explains.
FedBid and Rave Mobile point us toward the periphery of this paradigm shift. While Wall Street and technology bloggers debate the value of Facebook or LinkedIn, another crop of forward-looking strategists have their sites already set on the other regions of the economy that are undergoing this transformation.