Company Launches First Search Engine Made for Mobile

Norway-based Fast Search and Transfer (FAST) has launched what it’s calling the first ever mobile search engine, a development that could prompt incumbent search leaders to take notice and which could help accelerate the advance of an array of mobile commerce and services.

FAST announced the search tool, known as mSearch, at the CTIA Wireless 2005 conference and said that it was specifically designed to collect results for wireless users, focusing on content such as music, games, ring tones and digital images.

Analysts said that just as Web search has helped fuel growth of e-commerce and interactive marketing, mobile search has the same, and in some cases even greater, potential to have a similar impact in the wireless world.

Since FAST specializes in enterprise search, the new search engine is designed to give carriers the chance to put their content alongside the Web content so carriers can make more money.

Carrier Search Site

The search tool is meant to enable mobile carriers to launch their own, branded mobile search sites, enabling them to capture revenue that might otherwise go to existing search companies and to boost use of premium content. FAST’s search technology could provide either exclusive results limited to the carrier’s content and service offerings, or be integrated to include wider search results from the Web.

“FAST mSearch offers a complete solution that addresses the need of the mobile end user, while also enabling carriers and content providers to own their own destiny in this space,” Ali I. Riaz, FAST’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “Ring tones, images, music and games are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the content mobile users will want to search for and download onto their mobile applications.”

Riaz said mSearch is based on work that FAST has done with several large wireless carriers and content providers who want to reach mobile users.

Analysts say the technology is likely to resonate with carriers, who could see the development of Web-enabled mobile devices sap revenue as users are able to access traditional search engines such as Google and Yahoo or go directly to content providers such as news or music sites, from their wireless devices.

Exclusive Content

While carriers do stand to benefit via air time charges from wireless Web use and its off-shoots — from music downloads and video streaming to m-commerce purchases — carriers want to maximize potential revenue by delivering as much exclusive content as possible. While carriers gain air time usage when a customer accesses a Google search, for instance, it could also be capturing advertising revenue that Google gains from delivering paid listings.

In addition to accessing Google and other Web search tools through Web browsers increasingly common on smartphones, Google has launched a mobile-friendly way of searching by using text messaging.

Gartner analyst Phil Redman told the E-Commerce Times that there are advantages and disadvantages on both sides of the battle for mobile search leadership. Google has established technology and a network of advertisers but is clearly designed for use on Web-friendly devices.

On the other hand, many mobile carriers will have to work to build the kind of content store and relationships to let them compete even while they have the advantage of controlling their networks and having established relationships with their subscribers.

“It doesn’t matter how good the search engine is if it still doesn’t work well with small devices,” Redman said. “The challenge is: What kind of content is it going to find and is it feasible on a mobile device.”

Just for You

FAST said the search engine could also personalize results in a way that is currently not possible on the Web by letting carriers leverage personal information they already have about their subscribers.

Yankee Group analyst XJ Wang said mobile search engines have the “potential to become a killer application given the fact that mobile search can leverage the subscriber’s personal information that mobile networks already have.”

“Like traditional Internet search applications, mobile search will drive higher wireless Internet usage and create more opportunities for mobile commerce,” Wang said.

FAST has a strong reputation among enterprises for its search solutions. It chose to focus solely on enterprise-side search in 2003, when it sold its Web search technology to Overture Services in a deal worth around $70 million. Overture was later purchased by Yahoo for around $1.6 billion.

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