Should navigation companies move to OpenStreetMap like Telenav?


Earlier this week navigation company Telenav announced they are switching mapping data provider from TomTom to OpenStreetMap for their iPhone app Scout. Scout is a popular navigation app focusing mainly on US market.  Telenavs European market is covered by Skobbler which is well known OSM-based navigation app acquired by TeleNav in January 2014. In mid-2013 Telenav hired Steve Coast – the founder of OpenStreetMap who joined the company from Microsoft. Now we see why.

Telenav Geoawesomeness


Telenav is not pioneering in migrating to OSM. A lot of well-known companies adopted the open-source mapping platform, the same time ditching Google Maps. In 2012, Foursquare switched Google Maps for the OpenStreetMap-powered MapBox, Craigslist uses it for apartment searches, and even Apple has turned to OpenStreetMap data too. On the local markets, a lot of companies are using OSM instead of global or local data providers. 

Of course, nothing happens without reason. Back in 2012, Google introduced usage limits for its API, which meant that once a third-party app exceeded 25,000 map loads for 90 consecutive days, the company/developer would have to pay $4 for every subsequent 1,000 map loads above the free allowance. This fee was subsequently lowered to $0.50 but it started the trend.

Google Maps vs OSM

There are basically three core things that make a good navigation mapping data: the display element (so the map itself), the navigability information within the map like speed-limits, one-way streets, and address points for “door-to-door” navigation. While OSM is very good in the first one and quite decent in the second one, it lacks a little bit with the last one.

The question is how much money is it worth to have a precise address points? When using different navigation devices or apps, we don’t thing that actually companies pay for geographic data quite a lot of money. The money goes to TomTom, HERE and local data providers. With decreasing revenues from sales due to free Google Maps app, navigation companies are searching ways to cut their costs. OSM still lacks a lot comparing to TomTom, HERE and Google who invested many years and billions of dollars to build their global databases but it is getting better every year. I must say that personally, I prefer Google Maps over OSM, I use ArcGIS instead of QGIS and Windows/Mac OS instead of  Linux but I see some sense in what TeleNav is doing.


Google spends $1 billion a year to keep its maps up-to-date, TomTom and HERE are also investing a lot to keep their maps fresh. TeleNav decided to invest in contributing to OSM and at the same time use the crowdsourcing power of 1,5m OSM user community. On the one side it might bring a significant gain for the OpenStreetMap navigation features, on the other hand, it will attract OSM users who are surely searching for a good Google Maps navigation replacement.

TeleNav is betting on OpenStreetMap which might be a very smart or a very risky move. Users are used to high-quality data and precise routing in their navigation apps. Will Telenav be able to provide it right away? On the other hand, if guys at TeleNav are right that the future of mapping data is OSM, they will have a significant advantage over the competition.

What do you think about it?

I'm a professional always thinking outside the box and a self-confessed gadget addict. As a son of a professor of cartography I was surrounded by maps all my life and as a result spatial way of thinking and seeing reality is naturally embedded in who I am.


  1. Too many grammatical errors in this for me to figure out the main message… BTW, just because your father is a geographer… doesn’t make you one. You are missing many salient business points related to creating and supporting an industrial strength global map base, as well as the concerns / issues related to building your business such a foundation.

    • Hi Susie, sorry for the errors. English is not my first language and I will try better next time. I’m not a geographer, but I’m definitely a cartographer (supported by two master degrees and experience in working for commercial mapping data providers). The mapping business is very complex, but this was not a post about it. It was a post about why companies could be turning to OSM and possibly why Telenav did it.
      And It would be very interesting to here your opinion on that topic.

    • Pointlessly nasty criticism susie. Alek’s English is fine, and the article was comprehensible despite the very minor grammatical errors. Stating he is ‘missing many salient business points’ without referring to what any of them might be tags your comment as just a useless piece of negativiy. Ahh…the web, full of armchair critics, just busting a gut to show off their superiority (which you didn’t – because you didn’t even hint at what was wrong with the articel. No…you just had enough room to bag him, and the comment about his father is just inane). Aleks: I got what you were saying, and found the article interesting. No need to apologise, you can’t keep pedants ilke susie happy, no matter what you do. Your graciousness to the criticism was admirable.

  2. Alex. Thank you for this insightful and well written article. Having
    used commercial street map offerings in the past (e.g. Navtec, TomTom
    etc), I found them inferior to the “new generation” services. Google
    and OSM use layers of local knowledge to catch and verify changes, and
    offer a very compelling price (free!) for consumers. Having travelled a
    lot through my work, I find Google Maps to be extremely reliable. Their
    validation is multi-tiered and thorough. They add corporate
    accountability to the process, whereas OSM is voluntary through the
    public domain. Both are wonderful, but I would pick Google to remain
    the Leader and definitive source.

    • Hi Peter, I couldn’t agree more that Google offers the best mapping services out there. It’s my first choice navigation app and up to recently my favourite mapping website (new Google Maps website is so slow that sometimes I’m forced to use the competition;). But let me tell you a short story. 3 years ago I was wotking on some mashups with a friend. My choice was of course Google Maps, but my friend Luis (great programmer) choose OSM. I’ve asked him, why was he using OSM when Google Maps are for free. But he said „What if one day Google starts charging for its maps…?”. And half a year later they did. This is the problem with “free-commercial” services – they are never free. So when thinking on a long term strategy and analysing the risks of a mapping project the question how serious this threat you think it is.


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