Sprint Plots WiMax-Powered Location Services
Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) today unveiled one of the first services that will be available on its XOHM mobile WiMax network: A location service that will pinpoint local businesses, restaurants, and "points of interest" for mobile users with WiMax-cards for their laptops. The third-largest cellular carrier in the U.S. is calling the application Geobrowsing and says at least some of the capabilities will be available when it goes commercial this September in Baltimore.
Sprint is working with a number of partners on the location service. Boston-based uLocate Communications Inc. is described as the "primary partner" on the location side with its "Where" platform, which the company describes as "the first mobile widget platform for rapid development and publishing of location-enabled wireless content and applications." Autodesk Inc. is also working on geospatial mapping for the service; Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) is supplying some of its Google Maps capabilities; and Openwave Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: OPWV) is providing a "location platform."
There's also a slew of content partners onboard, providing everything from traffic and weather updates to local color. Names in the frame include Navteq Corp. (NYSE: NVT) and Yelp Inc. .
Sprint isn't detailing exactly what content and services will be ready at the launch but says that users will at least have basic mapping capabilities available to them. "Yes, there will be a portal for users to access," says a Sprint spokesman. "The partners are building capabilities into our network and the network will evolve over time."
The underlying technology that provides the user location data for the application will also change over time. "It's not GPS at this point, it is cellsite... Eventually it’ll be GPS," Rick Robinson, VP of XOHM services tells Unstrung.
Cellsite location measures the strength of radio signals from nearby base stations to estimate which one the user is closest to. Cellsite location is generally considered less accurate than GPS, although that can depend on how built-up an area the service is used in -- tall buildings can make it difficult for the satellite network to get a fix on a user. (See Guide to Wireless Location Technology.) Sprint is awaiting the arrival of GPS-capable WiMax devices to implement the satellite tracking-based capabilities. Robinson says that eventually Sprint will have "assisted GPS" with a network that combines satellite triangulation and cellsite data for the best accuracy.
Initially users will be able to access the "geobrowsing" service with laptops using WiMax radio cards. Eventually, however, Sprint is promising the capabilities will be available in a range of other gizmos such as mobile media players.
Sprint once again reiterated that its first WiMax network will launch this September in Baltimore, although spokespeople are unable to provide any color on the exact date. That launch is expected to be followed by cities such as Chicago and Washington by the end of the year. (See Sprint: More on B'More.)
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung