It's (half) official. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Federal Trade Commission has just approved Nokia's (NYSE:NOK) $8.1 billion purchase of digital mapmaker Navteq (NYSE:NVT).

The subject of the recent brouhaha over whether Garmin (NASDAQ:GRMN) will get shut off from its data supply (hint: it won't), this deal sets the stage for Nokia's rise to challenge both Garmin and European GPS specialist TomTom in a three-way race for "who does GPS best."

Make that "sets half the stage." In light of last month's news that the European Commission is scrutinizing the TomTom-Tele Atlas tie-up, it seems Nokia has one more big regulatory hoop to jump through before it will be able to seal the deal with Navteq.

Foolish takeaway
Last month's good news that Garmin had finalized a long-term data supply agreement with Navteq should go a ways toward allaying European regulatory concerns that Nokia's purchase will lock out (for lack of mapping data) those who want to compete in this market. My guess, therefore, is that we'll see this deal receive EC approval and proceed to completion. That will mean watching competition heat up among the new Big Three in GPS devices -- Garmin, Nokia, and TomTom.

Other cell phone makers -- Sony (NYSE:SNE), Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC), and Motorola (NYSE:MOT) to name three -- appear to be sitting this battle out. Judging from the customer lists for Navteq and Tele Atlas, compiled by the Fool's data provider, Capital IQ, none of these three appear to be making much of a push at all to enter this market. Only Motorola, in fact, appears to be a customer of either mapmaker (namely, Navteq subsidiary

Map the progress of this GPS saga with: