MSN wants to develop location-based search, in talks with telcos

MSN wants to develop location-based search, in talks with telcos

Mumbai: The Internet arm of Redmond, Washington-head- quartered software giant Microsoft Corp., MSN, is in talks with Indian telecom operators to develop location-based services (LBS, which provides information based on a user’s location) for mobile users in the country. It will also launch maps on mobiles, which, combined with LBS, can help users with road navigation.

The location-based search tool will be targeted at mobile Internet users. MSN, which launched its revamped mobile portal MSN Mobile in India last week, currently offers mobile search for users with GPRS (General Packet Radio Service, used for accessing Internet via mobile) handsets in partnership with Vodafone. “By combining search with LBS, we can leverage the operator’s network to offer a powerful tool for mobile users," said Senthilkumar Sundaram, head, mobile business, MSN India.

According to industry estimates, 40-50% of handsets sold today are GPRS-enabled. Few people who own GPRS sets use them to access the Internet. But this has not deterred the big three global Internet giants—Yahoo! Inc., Google Inc. and MSN—from betting on the growth of the mobile Internet market here. Given the low rate of Internet penetration, particularly in the broadband access category, coupled with a large mobile user base, these companies expect the market for first-time Internet users via the mobile to grow significantly over the next few years. ForMSN, cracking the mobile code in India is crucial with rival Google dominating the Internet search market.

The company wants to partner with carrier networks to develop an intuitive search system in which users need not provide the location data. For example, a mobile user can search for the nearest hospital in case of emergency, without specifying where he or she is. Based on a method called triangulation, which determines the phone’s location based on signal strength to the nearest cell tower, and using an existing database, the system can throw up search results listing nearby hospitals. For high-end handsets with built-in GPS (Global Positioning System, which pinpoints location by using satellites) chips, location can be determined within 10-30ft. Other GPRS-enabled handsets can be “triangulated" to within 50ft of the location.

Currently, there are a number of companies offering local and mobile search, such as New Delhi-based SM Onyomo Infotech Pvt. Ltd and Bangalore-based Four Interactive Pvt. Ltd. But LBS based onoperator networks has notyet been launched. MSNhas implemented location-based search in Europe, where location data is readily available for a fee, and in the US, where MSN has partnerships with carriers.

“Our approach in India will be to grow from operator to operator," says David Raissipour, product unit manager, MSN Mobile.