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Mobile phone operators plan own phone search engine

Despite deals with Google and Yahoo, mobile phone operators want to create their own search engine, ensuring more of the advertising revenue flows to operators rather than the established search engines.

At the upcoming 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona, a yearly conference put on by most of the world’s major mobile/cell phone operators, a new initiative is planned – a mobile operator search engine to compete with Google and Yahoo.

Given the mobile phone operators’ propensity to try and fence users into a walled-garden of content, questions are arising as to how good this idea really is, especially in an age where no-one seems to be able to outsearch Google – not even Microsoft after years of trying.

However the aim is to make money – a powerful motivator in times of declining revenue from voice minutes, in the face of competition from the likes of Skype and other VoIP providers.

In recent times, mobile operators seem to be trying everything and anything to make money, from mobile TV services, music download services and more realistic (cheaper!) roaming plans, as operator 3 mobile has undertaken with its ‘3 like home’ service, guaranteeing the same call rates as home when overseas, and when on a network also owned by 3 mobile.

Operators said to be in on the deal include 3 mobile (Hutchison Whampoa), Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, Telefonica, Telecom Italia and Cingular, amongst others.

If mobile operators can successfully create their own search engine, and tie it into location based services that ‘know’ where you are based on which mobile phone tower you are currently connected to, the dream of location based search and advertising becomes more real.

However this is already happening with ‘local’ search services from Google and Yahoo, and in countries like Australia where the major telco, Telstra, has their own search engine called ‘Sensis’ that is already heavily engaged in promoting localized search, both on PCs and on mobile phones that Telstra offers.

There is also the question of if the service is needed, if Apple’s plans to offer a real web browser in a phone come to fruition. Why stumble around with an underpowered mobile phone search engine when you can just go to Google direct?

After all, anyone using Microsoft’s Windows Live Search knows that while it has improved, it’s still no match for Google. Will the phone operators succumb to the same fate? Only time will tell, but unless their results can outdo Google, the search for mobile search success will likely continue for some time yet, and will consume untold millions of dollars in an age where what consumers really want is a dropout free mobile voice experience – with voice calling surely still the no.1 killer app for mobile cell phones!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.