Find-a-celebrity is Vodafone's first location-based venture

Vodafone has become the first UK mobile phone operator to enable third parties to launch commercial location-based services, with...

Vodafone has become the first UK mobile phone operator to enable third parties to launch commercial location-based services, with all but one of the other operators expected to follow suit by the end of the year.

Analysts said the move, which was announced last week, means companies will be better placed to take advantage of location-based services.

The first service, launched in conjunction with provider Mobile Commerce, is for celebrity gossip Web site Peoplenews.com.

Vodafone users will be able to text words such as "eat" or "bar" to short-code service 80400 and receive an SMS reply informing them of nearby celebrity haunts.

The deal changes the landscape for location-based services, according to Steve Page, chief executive officer of Mobile Commerce. "This is the first time an operator has released location data feed to a company like us," he said. "Until now, these services have been proprietary to one network, but all the operators are interested [in this], with only one holding back."

Extending location-based services across all networks puts third-party service providers in a stronger bargaining position, according to Page. "One of the blocks holding location-based services back has been that service providers have had to go straight to the operator which has then been able to control the price," he said. "Service providers will now have more sway during price negotiations."

The initial focus of the services will be on consumer applications, but there is scope for corporate use, Page said. "The next six months will see mainly consumer services launched but we are in discussions with a number of telematics companies about business applications," he said.

Jeremy Green, research director for wireless at analyst firm Ovum, said the service should help to build acceptance of location-based services as a business tool.

"There is nothing stopping companies doing this. A number of telematics companies have been offering these services for some time, but take-up has been miniscule," he said.

"Location-based services have been held up by the lack of a business model, rather than by the technology, and this will help to change that," said Green.

The Vodafone service is suited to companies wanting to track employees on an area-by-area basis, he suggested.

"Vodafone has not implemented exact positioning - it is only to the nearest cell - so tracking individual vehicles would not be viable," said Green. "However, it could work if you wanted to track lorry drivers to the nearest town, for example," he added.

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