Who Licenses Maps to TomTom & Garmin?

by Fred Decker

GPS devices from major manufacturers such as Garmin and TomTom stand or fall on two fundamental sources of data. The first is maps, and the second is complimentary data such as points of interest or traffic information. Each manufacturer compiles its own points of interest and traffic data from a variety of sources, but the basic map set in each GPS device is licensed from one of the two major suppliers.

TomTom and TeleAtlas

GPS device manufacturer TomTom and map supplier TeleAtlas are both Netherlands-based companies, so it was only natural for TomTom to license maps from its compatriots. In 2007, TomTom outbid rival manufacturer Garmin to purchase TeleAtlas, making the map supplier a wholly owned subsidiary and securing its data source for the long term. This also permitted TomTom to offer faster map updates for its customers, shortening the time frame from months to days. Controlling its own map data provides TomTom with a competitive advantage over Garmin, which licenses its maps from Navteq.

Garmin and Navteq

Chicago-based Navteq began life in Silicon Valley in 1985, pioneering the development of map-based digital services. Navteq also has a Dutch connection, with the Netherlands' corporate giant Philips Electronics providing significant early investment. The company was acquired in 2008 by Nokia, and as of 2012 was the world's leading supplier of map-related products and services. After dropping its bid for TeleAtlas, Garmin renewed and strengthened its relationship with Navteq and uses the company as its source for map and traffic data.

How They Work

Both Navteq and TeleAtlas use a similar process for recording and updating their core map data. Vehicles equipped with GPS devices and camera equipment drive millions of miles every year, logging street names and coordinates, lane information, addresses, road signs, traffic-flow restrictions and other pertinent data. This information becomes part of the following year's map sets, and GPS manufacturers draw advanced features such as lane-change guidance and the basic navigational data.

Other Considerations

Although each company offers a broad range of models in each market, Garmin leads in the U.S. market with its Navteq-based maps, and TomTom dominates in Europe with its TeleAtlas maps. Each company updates its maps constantly with data from its users, either collected anonymously from their GPS devices or contributed through an updating or error-correction process. TomTom's community-based MapShare service enables users to accept map updates from the entire community, trusted users or only updates verified by TomTom. Navteq's international maps cover more countries and regions, but TomTom's TeleAtlas maps are larger. Garmin supports additional third-party maps, while TomTom does not.

About the Author

Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

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