Sprint Nextel will put location-based services front and center on its Xohm WiMax service, offering a portal with widgets for local weather, traffic, events, reviews and other information.
The carrier was set to announce on Thursday a partnership with uLocate Communications, along with Google, AccuWeather, Navteq, reviews site Yelp and other content providers.
Sprint will discover subscribers' locations using information from its WiMax base stations. With uLocate's Where platform, it will present local content and services from the other partners, said Art Spivy, director of content and community services for Xohm. By the end of the year, Sprint also hopes to integrate uLocate's Buddy Beacon friend-finding service in the service.
Xohm will be a data-oriented service that users will access on devices sold by manufacturers at retail rather than by the carrier, as is common for cell phones. In addition, those devices won't have a standard "deck" or lineup of services constantly presented by Sprint. Client devices are expected to start with laptop cards and eventually include MIDs (mobile Internet devices), personal entertainment devices and other platforms. The service is set to launch in September in Baltimore, with more markets added in the coming months.
The location-based content will be presented on a Xohm Web portal and will change as a subscriber moves from one place to another. Subscribers will also be able to personalize the portal to offer information on the kinds of things they want. But they won't be forced to use that portal as a home page.
"We're not trying to replace AOL's or Yahoo's portal," Spivy said. "We're really trying to be a great start experience for your mobile session."
The content partners' information will be presented through widgets on the portal page. Other initial partners are set to include events and tickets company Eventful and localized news provider Topix. Sprint later plans to open up the portal to many more partners through a developer program. Policies for the privacy of user data will be included in that partner program, he said.
Sprint's move is part of an overall trend away from tight service-provider control of mobile content, according to analyst Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Research. Using the location data it gathers will help to draw subscriber's to Xohm's own portal on devices that could easily be used simply for Web access, but in the wake of the iPhone's personalized home screen, Sprint is not alone, he said.
"Everything, generally speaking, is moving toward greater openness and customization," Sterling said.