Wi-Fi

Sprint, Google and others partner on 'geobrowsing' for WiMax

Sprint unveiled 'geobrowsing' services that will give its XOHM WiMax users the ability to quickly look up local information based on automatic detection of the user's location when connected to WiMax.

Sprint unveiled 'geobrowsing' services that will give its XOHM WiMax users the ability to quickly look up local information based on automatic detection of the user's location when connected to WiMax.

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With the launch of its long-hyped WiMax service XOHM scheduled to debut in September in Baltimore, on Thursday Sprint announced a set of location-based personalization features that will enhance the user experience of WiMax subscribers by allowing them to, for example, quickly look up restaurants, check traffic and weather, and find friends who are nearby, all based on automatic location sensing.

What's interesting is that Sprint is not doing this the way cellular providers normally do it, which is to launch proprietary custom applications to lock in users. Sprint has promised that would make its WiMax network agnostic to devices and applications. And so far, it's staying true to its word -- although with a privacy asterisk.

With these location-based services, Sprint is launching with a Web-based portal that partners can write widgets for, based on Sprint's WiMax API. Launch partners include:

This will potentially work for a variety of WiMax devices, including:

  • Laptops
  • Ultramobile PCs (UMPCs)
  • Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs)
  • GPS navigation devices
  • Portable media players
  • WiMax-enabled phones

Intel has low-cost WiMax chips that will be embedded in laptops before the end of the year. Nokia has released a WiMax version of its N810 Internet Tablet. OQO will offer a WiMax option for its ultramobile PC. Motorola and others have also demoed a variety of forthcoming WiMax-powered devices.

Rick Robinson, vice president of XOHM Services, said "The XOHM mobile broadband experience will be largely location-centric. 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."

In the past, Sprint has also promised to offer these types of WiMax services in a way that preserves privacy by giving users control over how much of their information they choose to share or reveal to applications and vendors.  In the materials accompanying this announcement, Sprint stated, "XOHM will offer these location capabilities with a corresponding privacy policy to make sure XOHM members are informed about how XOHM will handle their data. "

That does not sound as strong as their previous statements about users being able to control their privacy. It sounds more like offering a simple disclosure statement, which most users won't read. Thus, users will need to hold Sprint's feet to the fire on privacy.

Because Sprint is opening up its network to all devices and applications, it needs other ways to monetize the network beyond just the standard subscription revenue. That likely means they will take their users -- all of whom they know a lot about -- and try to monetize them by allowing and vendors and marketers to target specific user segments, based on geography, age, interests, etc.

With location-based services, Sprint now has another factor to add to the mix. This is where monetization can collide with privacy. The services, such as these geobrowsing options, can be super-useful, but users need to be aware of the fact that they are giving up some privacy in the process.

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

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