Why Design with Open-Source Maps?

When you need to get someone from point A to point B in the most expeditious way, digital maps coupled with GPS technology are essential. The same goes for mapping data that you require when providing information that depends on navigation and location services to your customers. But what is the nature of the map that you will rely on for your business? Your options include closed-source maps developed by private entities and open-source maps.


What are Open-Source Maps?

Open-source maps are computerized maps developed with information sourced from the crowd. These maps are deemed “open”, like open-source software, in that they are free for people to use and to expand upon. Unlike maps developed, maintained, controlled and sold by private entities, open-source maps are available for all to work with.

Major providers of maps include:

  • TomTom
  • HERE
  • Apple Maps
  • Google Maps

Additional map providers that are less well known, but that you may also be familiar with include:

  • Mapbox
  • Comtech
  • Telenav
  • Garmin
  • ESRI

The main point here is that we should be glad that there are multiple sources for maps, since a company that achieves near-monopolistic status could wind up with too much control over where we go and how we get there (as well as potentially censoring locations from public view or otherwise reducing map utility).

Benefits in Comparison to Other Map Types

A major benefit of using open-source maps is that local contributors can quickly update changes in their location, instead of waiting for a central committee to make changes. The communities that are building open-source maps contribute data based on GPS information from their own devices, imagery taken from the air as well as field maps to check accuracy.

The sheer number of dedicated people providing updates to open-source maps means that more details about the surface of the earth will be catalogued to help us better navigate our surroundings. Of course, quality of mapping data depends to a large degree on using trusted providers, which are companies that create and maintain basemaps for open-source map usage.

Potential Drawbacks When Using Maps

While there is a range of benefits to using open-source maps, stakeholders at organizations considering deploying them in their own projects and applications should be aware of some possible drawbacks as well.

Before evaluating providers of mapping data, you should make sure to check on ownership of the data. Some map providers retain your information, while others do not.

Most importantly, you will need to obtain objective, third-party reviews of the maps as to how accurate they are. Part of this research should be to learn how the provider responds to reports of errors, how it audits problems in its mapping, and how often it announces updates.

Finally, be aware of the provider’s limitations. Do they offer maps on a global basis or do they only provide maps for the U.S.? While your initial application may only call for United States coverage, your user base or project parameters may expand, leaving you to sort out how to integrate maps for the rest of the world. Don’t get caught off guard in this respect.

How Open-Source Maps Can Be Useful

Open-source maps can be useful in a number of ways. You do not have to pay to use them in your application, which means they present no barrier to entry when you want to start a business or expand an existing service. Since you can customize the use of open-source map information, you have versatility that can lead to innovative products.

Do You Need Mapping Services for an Upcoming Project or Service?

If you have any questions about how Comtech Enterprise Technologies uses open-source maps for our mapping and navigation solutions or would like a consultation, please get in touch with us today.


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