Telcontar's Secret Success: What's Under the Hood?

Message from the Editor -

Welcome to GISWeekly! What's so great about Google maps? Scalability of platform, speed, and responsiveness so Google can handle billions of transactions every day, with no degradation of service. The engine underlying this capability is Telcontar's Drill Down Server (DDS) geo-spatial software platform and application development tools. Read about it in this week's Industry News.

GISWeekly examines select top news each week, picks out worthwhile reading from around the web, and special interest items you might not find elsewhere. This issue will feature Industry News, Acquisitions/Alliances/Agreements, Announcements, Appointments, New Products, Around the Web and Upcoming Events.

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Industry News

Telcontar's Secret Success: What's Under the Hood?
By Susan Smith

Take a look at Google maps and see what you think. Google engineers created and launched Google maps as a service that includes a unique map user interface that fits the screen (not found in outsourced maps from companies like Mapquest), plus the ability to “click and drag on the map to pan in real-time. Users can receive online turn-by-turn directions, maps and search results based on location from Google Local. Some other unique features include text "flags" that identify the address on the map, plus the flag includes links for directions to and from the location. When looking for something nearby, or a "point of interest" with respect to a certain location, the service will produce a list with teardrop icons on the map displaying the location of the business or nearby service.”

Looks good, but what's so great about it? Scalability of platform, speed, and responsiveness so Google can handle billions of transactions every day, with no degradation of service. The engine underlying this capability is Telcontar's Drill Down Server (DDS) geo-spatial software platform and application development tools.

“What Google has done is taken Telcontar's Drill Down Server, our geospatial software platform, and incorporated it into their own solution to generate the maps, routes and the local search on their site. It's our engine that doing all the map rendering and all the spatial searches,” explained Telcontar CEO Kim Fennel. “The same can be said for Ask Jeeves, Yahoo Maps, (they have been using the platform for about three years now), Rand McNally, but we also have customers who are doing fleet tracking and call center applications. Google has basically taken our software engine and packaged it up with content from NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas and branded it as their own, which a lot of our customers do.”

The platform is fast, accurate and highly scalable, and very customizable, so that if you were to view Google maps side by side with Yahoo maps they have a different look and feel. ”The Google engineers have come in and taken our software and our development tools, then customized it according to their preference,” said Fennell.

Why is the Drill Down Server so fast? “At the heart of Telcontar we have a new spatial data access method that's fundamentally different than how everyone else has tried to organize spatial data,” Fennell noted. “We reorganize data from all sources into our format called Rich Map Format (RMF). We have ten patents granted and another 21 filed in this area. A subtle difference - we built our engine and our access method was designed to do high performance route calculations. Traditional GIS systems do geometry and attributes well so you can print a map, and make beautiful maps very efficiently. If you try to use that geometry information to calculate a route you discover you need to have all the topology and term restrictions embedded in the database and it becomes a more difficult engine to solve. So we built an engine to do routing, not necessarily thematic maps, although we have the ability to manage that map layer underneath very well and can put points of interest on top of a map. We do routing well, and do it in an architecture that is stateless, so any user can go to any server and have that query processed.”

On the business side of things, until today, location has been shown on an outsourced map from service providers such as Mapquest, which was in the vanguard of providing this type of product. However, customers now want something customizable and not “branded.”

“We're starting to see that high end service providers want to have the ability to have their own look and feel and unique set of applications,” said Fennell. “They want to take mapping services and local search to the next level. Google is a good example of that. To do that they needed a platform of their own rather than outsourcing it. We're not an ASP. We are a software company that provides software to customers like Google, they install it on their servers behind their own firewalls. We focus on high end service providers like the search companies, travel portals, wireless carriers who want differentiating services.”

The Google maps service is currently in beta, with coverage for the US, Puerto Rico and parts of Canada. Current browser support includes Internet Explorer and Mozilla, with content being provided by Telcontar partners NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas.

In a recent ESRI press release announcing that company had been awarded a contract by the Department of the Interior to develop the full implementation of the Geospatial One-Stop Operational Portal (GOS 2), there was mention of the use of “a new method for integrated spatial and subject searching uses the proven Google Search Appliance and allows for subsecond metadata searches.” When asked if Google maps will be part of Geospatial One-Stop (GOS), Fennell wasn't sure, however, he did say that Google likely has rights to refranchise and resell their geospatial mapping services on top of Telcontar's software.

Future plans

We'll continue to focus on search companies, travel companies, and taking search to next level by developing online yellow pages, said Fennell. Wireless is another big area for Telcontar. They have a core platform, and a “couple dozen application developers developing wireless phone. We are best at real time turn by turn navigation solutions for cell phone, off board navigation on your cell phone. Our platform is faster than an in-vehicle navigation system.” Along with that they are integrating real time traffic information and incorporating it into their route calculations, and are in discussions with carriers and handset manufacturers with regard to those services. Telematics is another big area where Telcontar is helping the auto industry with next generation navigation solutions.

In Response to the South Asian Tsunami and Earthquake

Among those traveling to tsunami country in hopes of making a difference is Dr. Frank Chang, URISA GISCorps' first volunteer. He left for Indonesia on Saturday, February 12th, traveling with a member of Global Map Aid to Indonesia to assess the situation resulting from the tsunami. He will also travel to India where he will meet with representatives from SeedsIndia and Map Action. Frank will be communicating regularly with the GISCorps committee about his activities via his personal blog link on the GISCorps website,
Other informational sites:

The Third Earth Observation Summit draws NASA officials and representatives from more than 50 countries to a meeting in Brussels. The purpose of the Summit is to bring together Earth observation resources to create a worldwide network to streamline the distribution of data, information products and services to society. We should be hearing more about this Summit in next week's GISWeekly as some topics important to the entire world will be discussed, such as development of a comprehensive Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). For information about the Summit on the Web, visit:

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