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Sprint Nextel offers geographic search

/ Source: The Associated Press

Finding the closest pizza parlor may now be as easy as asking your mobile phone.

Sprint Nextel Corp. on Tuesday began offering an enhanced, mobile search service through Microsoft Corp. that allows phone users to find nearby businesses through the phones' built-in location-based technology.

Typing in a term, such as "pizza," delivers a list of links, including nearby pizza shops, without having to give a ZIP code or other address information. Selecting a link pulls up a map to the location and allows the user to call the shop's phone number.

The process could be simplified further through voice-recognition software, also being offered Tuesday for download on certain Sprint phones, that uses technology picked up in Microsoft's acquisition earlier this year of Tellme Networks Inc.

In that case, just say "pizza," and the search engine does its work.

Sprint and Microsoft first teamed up in November when the Seattle-based giant's Live Search became the default Web search engine for most Sprint phones.

The new services also show how Internet companies are looking to grab a share of the advertising possibilities of mobile search, as well as wireless companies continuing to make inroads into the personal navigation market, now dominated by satellite-powered devices.

In Sprint's case, the user's location is found based on signals sent from nearby cell towers, although the user has to give permission for the feature to work.

"The operators are trying more and more to leverage the features on their devices, and this is a feature to watch, given the growing popularity for navigation devices," said Tuong Nguyen, a wireless analyst for research firm Gartner.

The mobile search service, which is free to users of most data-enabled devices, allows customers to search for things on the Internet, on Sprint's own mobile content and in their immediate area at the same time.

Shares of Sprint were down 10 cents at $17.54 in afternoon trading. Shares of Microsoft were down 38 cents at $28.36.