How Free Changed the Navigation Game Forever

Free and bundled mobile navigation services are bringing once-pricey turn-by-turn services to the masses, and the masses are responding in a big way.

That’s the upshot of a new study from Berg Insight, which found that the number of mobile users utilizing a turn-by-turn navigation service or application on their handset increased 57 percent from the first half of 2009 to the first half of 2010, hitting 44 million worldwide. Berg Insight is forecasting a compound annual growth rate of 33 percent, which will bring us to 195 million mobile navigation users by 2015.

Much of this growth stems from free solutions like Google (s goog) Maps Navigation and Nokia’s (s nok) Ovi Maps but it’s also coming from carriers like Sprint (s s) and others who are bundling in navigation services as part of data packages. The result is that navigation is following the lead of voice calls, which became extremely cheap or free with the advent of VoIP. Navigation, which like telephony is benefiting from lower costs, is becoming democratized, and if you don’t have a free or subsidized solution now, you will soon.

Already in the U.S., mobile navigation services have already reached 8 percent of all users, said Berg. Overall, 70 percent of U.S. handsets are now equipped with GPS.

This is all forcing traditional personal navigation device makers to adapt. Some like TomTom (s tom2) are pushing out branded mobile apps, while rival Garmin (s grmn) is settling its own Nuvifone, though with some disappointing results.

There is still room to play in the PND market at the high end and perhaps at the low end as well. PND sales won’t evaporate; it’s just not headed for big growth in the long run. The larger story is that turn-by-turn navigation is becoming a core service for mobile users that is hitting its stride with the help of free and cheap pricing.

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