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Microsoft puts mobile developers on the map

Partnership with U.K. wireless operators gives developers more range in using data based on cell phone location.

Microsoft is planning to deliver data about the location of cell phones to developers through a partnership between its MapPoint Location Server and several U.K. network operators.

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

When U.K.-based Zingo created a taxi-hailing service that 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's managing director, Mark Fawcett, said the process was time-consuming, mainly because of a U.K. data protection law that makes network providers very cautious about sharing positioning data.

Announcing the deal at the TechEd developer conference in Amsterdam on Tuesday, Microsoft's director of marketing for the MapPoint business unit, Tom Bailey, said he expected to have a deal with network operator O2 signed by the fall.

A similar deal with TeliaSonera of Sweden is expected to be signed in July, and one with Dutch company Teydo is ready to go, Bailey said. Teydo supplies mobile phone positioning data from networks across Europe, including those operated by Vodafone, O2, T-Mobile and Orange in the United Kingdom.

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

At the TechEd conference, two Microsoft employees dressed respectively as a cell phone and a PocketPC demonstrated a simple application that enabled them to take a photograph and post it, along with the location, to a Web log. 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.

Matt Loney of ZDNet UK reported from London.