Sprint Taps Microsoft For Mobile Search

Sprint Nextel Thursday launched Windows Live Search on its mobile network through a strategic alliance with Microsoft that marks the first comprehensive tie-up between a major wireless carrier and a top search engine in the U.S.

The service allows consumers to search the Web for local information such as nearby restaurants and stores as well as Sprint's own content catalog including ringtones, games and screensavers. A Windows Live search bar will appear on the home page of Sprint's browser.

Advertisers will be able to bid on keywords in the local search directory, and pay each time consumers click on sponsored links to call the service. Pay-per-call advertising provider Ingenio, which Microsoft struck a deal with last month, will serve the local search ads. Microsoft said it's also extending its adCenter platform for both display and text ads to the mobile realm.

Greg Sterling, principal analyst with Sterling Market Intelligence, said the deal was significant for both parties, but it remains to be seen whether mobile search will bring tangible benefits to either Microsoft or Sprint. "All of this stuff is hype until people really start using it," he said.

As the first step in a broader agreement to jointly develop new services, Sprint's mobile search deal with Microsoft shows that the major carriers are starting to open up their walled gardens to other service providers. Earlier this month, Sprint also partnered with Google to launch the mobile version of Gmail.

Sprint's moves may prompt competitors to play catch-up. "I'm wondering whether or not Yahoo and Google will be courted by the other carriers who are going to seek to offset Sprint's deal with Microsoft," said Sterling.