Bell Mobility Monday became an early customer of a Microsoft platform through which it hopes to offer a variety of location-based services to commercial cell phone

customers.

The Canadian carrier and the software giant made the announcement at the CTIA Wireless 2004 trade show in Atlanta, where Microsoft unveiled its MapPoint Location Server (MLS). The technology promises to ease the way mobile operators can combine their location data with Microsoft’s MapPoint Web service.

Developers have so far been slow to create location-based services to deal with asset tracking, fleet management and mobile-worker dispatch based on real-time proximity to a business-related event. This is in part because carriers have traditionally used different ways of broadcasting the phone’s location, said Adel Bazerghi, director of services development at Bell Mobility.

“”They can ask for location, check for the privacy — all the interfaces they would have to learn to come up to speed on to work with our platform is taken care of by the interface with the Microsoft,”” he said. “”And they’re interfaces that they’re used to.””

Tom Bailey, director of marketing for Microsoft’s MapPoint business unit, said MLS will significantly cut back the time-to-market for location based services.

“”That same partner that used to have to go through security agreements and then develop three or four different solutions now just builds one,”” he said. “”We’re talking about literally slashing by a half or more the time it takes partners to build these solutions.””

Bailey said an example of early U.S. customer engagements using MapPoint include elevator operator companies with more than 2,500 locations that need to dispatch technicians to jobs as quickly as possible. “”They’ll be able to get driving directions and maps. They’re looking up service history,”” he said. “”Once they actually get to the elevator they can scan and the device can find information on who has done the servicing before, what’s happened with the elevator.””

Bazerghi said he hopes MLS will open up the door for small enterprises who will be able to take existing wireless and even wireline applications and add a location component. “”The original ones that come to mind right away are the small dispatch, the workforce management applications,”” he said.

Pricing models for location-based services include subscription-style as well as pay-per-use in emergency services-related applications, Bazerghi said. In some cases the phone users may be charged directly for these services. In others, service providers would be billed separately.

Bell Mobility has already used MLS in a trial with one application with major system developer, Bazerghi added, and is planning to make more public announcements about services in the next few months. “”Internally we’ve developed a few applications on it, using the system and it’s ready for prime time,”” he said.

Microsoft also formed a similar agreement Monday with Sprint in the United States.

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