Microsoft to open up mobile phone location data

Tech Ed: A deal between Microsoft's MapInfo and network providers such as O2 will ease access to positioning data from mobile phones

Microsoft is planning to deliver mobile phone location-based data to developers through a partnership between its MapPoint Location Server (MLS) and several network operators, including O2 in the UK.

The deal means that developers will be able to create services and applications based on the position of a user's mobile phone much more easily than was previously possible.

When Zingo created its taxi-hailing service, which matches mobile phone location data with GPRS positioning systems mounted in black cabs, the company had to approach each network operator separately. At the time, Zingo managing director Mark Fawcett said the process was time-consuming, mainly because of data-protection laws, which make network providers very cautious about sharing positioning data.

Announcing the deal at the Tech Ed 2004 developer conference in Amsterdam on Tuesday, Microsoft's director of marketing for the MapPoint business unit, Tom Bailey, said he expected to have the O2 deal signed by the autumn.

A similar deal, with TeliaSonera of Sweden, is expected to be signed in July, and one with a Dutch company is ready to go, said Bailey. Teydo supplies mobile phone positioning data from networks across Europe, including Vodafone, O2, T-Mobile and Orange in the UK. The company charges 25p for each query.

Microsoft has not announced pricing, but said that MLS will be available to customers with a valid license agreement for the MapPoint Web Service. The MapPoint Web Service has two licensing models: per transaction for anonymous users (such as a Web-based locator solution), and per user where their identity is known (in fleet-management applications, for instance).

At the conference, two hapless Microsoft employees dressed respectively as a mobile phone and a PocketPC, demonstrated a simple application that enabled them to take a photograph and post it, along with the location, to a blog. Developers at the conference seemed on the whole impressed, though their postings to the blog entry indicated that several were more interested in the costumes.