Sprint Nextel has signed nine partners to help it roll out bleeding-edge subscriber location services. Based on XOHM WiMAX technology, Sprint’s high-speed mobile data network will turn up commercial service in Baltimore this September (see Sprint to launch first WiMAX service in Baltimore ), with more cities — likely Chicago and Washington — slated for Q4 2008 and thereafter. Sprint has termed the new location service Geobrowsing because it can locate local businesses, restaurants and other “points of interest” over WiMAX-card-enabled laptops. The service will be extended to other devices in the future, such as mobile media players, mobile Internet devices, media players, cameras and car navigation systems.
“The XOHM mobile broadband experience will be largely location-centric,” said Rick Robinson, vice president of XOHM Services. “We’re creating a new dimension to online presence, making points of interest near your current location easy to identify and access. This ‘geobrowsing’ effect provides location context and will give XOHM members a richer personal broadband experience when they’re mobile.”
Only some of the technology’s full capabilities will be available by first launch; further services will be added down the road. Initially though, customers will access a portal for basic mapping capabilities; technology partners and integrators will build more functionality into the network over time. XOHM has built in web services application programming interfaces to the service so service developers and device partners can “evolve” the network.
Speaking of technology partners, the XOHM WiMAX service has assembled a broad eco-sphere of vendors. Most significant is uLocate Communications, Sprint’s main partner in creating XOHM’s location service, with its WHERE platform and friend-finding application Buddy Beacon, connecting XOHM customers with the desired people, places and businesses. Through WHERE, XOHM users will have access to local information including restaurant reviews, news, events, weather and other services. Key launch partners on the WHERE platform include:
• Yelp, an online provider for local business reviews, delivering three million local reviews of restaurants, doctors, etc., searchable by category of map view
• Eventful, providing listings of local events displayed in a map view, with detailed drill-down on event and ticket info
• Topix, for summarized local news based on location, with complete stories and related data available at its home site
• NAVTEQ, for real-time local traffic and commuter updates, as well as links to Traffic.com for additional detailed construction, incident and drive time information
• AccuWeather, for three-day forecasts based on users’ current locations
• Google, for its Local Search capability, and additional features and functionality from Google Maps
• Openwave Systems, for the location platform that XOHM partners use to create new services.
“By incorporating location and local content at such a fundamental level Sprint is bringing something entirely new to the user experience,” said Greg Sterling founder of Sterling Market Intelligence and senior analyst, Local Mobile Search. “And the ability of that experience to travel with the user and automatically adapt to new locations is equally powerful.”
The service currently uses cellsite location measurement techniques to “locate” the user, which can be tricky—accuracy declines in cityscapes with lots of tall buildings, blocking the signal. Sprint plans to turn to the more reliable GPS technology “eventually,” after GPS-based WiMAX devices become generally available. Then, Sprint will use both cellsite location and satellite-based triangulation GPS for greater positioning accuracy.