NEW YORK - Google plans to offer internet search services in a Web portal Sprint Nextel is developing for its WiMax high-speed wireless service, the companies said today.
The agreement, which is Google's closest alliance with a major US mobile service provider, is expected to boost Web access over Sprint's new network and improve use of Google's search and communications services on mobile devices.
While Google, the world's leading Web search company, has agreements with overseas mobile providers, analysts say it lags Yahoo Inc in the US mobile Web market.
"This seems to be a bigger deal than what (Google's) done in the past, more comprehensive," said Pacific Crest analyst Steve Weinstein, who expects wireless services to be a "very material driver" for Google by late 2008 and early 2009.
Google has said wireless is key to its growth and its strategy of selling internet advertising.
Google is in the midst of a lobbying battle over rules governing an upcoming US government auction of airwaves. The company has told regulators it would take part in the auction and meet the minimum required bid of $4.6 ($5.80) billion if regulators added a sale condition that Google said would promote an open wireless market.
Sprint's Chief Technology Officer Barry West said the deal, which makes Google Sprint's exclusive search provider for WiMax service, should help raise Sprint's image as a provider of wireless Web services.
"If you think of the internet you automatically think of Google," West said. "Obviously having a powerful partner on the internet helps us become synonymous with the mobile internet."
Sprint said it would combine technology for detecting user location with Google tools including email and chat on devices running on a high-speed network Sprint is building based on WiMax technology.
WiMax offers web access speeds five times faster than typical wireless networks, though they are still slower than wired broadband.
For example, users could use Google to search for a pizzeria without having to enter a ZIP code or have the phone automatically broadcast their whereabouts to friends when they are setting up a meeting using Google Talk instant chat service or email on their phones.
West said Sprint would not charge users for Google services, which will be supported by search related advertising. Google and Sprint will have a revenue sharing agreement for the advertising.
Sprint, the No. 3 US mobile service, has envisioned the WiMax network serving a host of consumer electronic devices such as cameras or media players. It expects the portal to work on a multiple devices.
Some analysts had questioned the wisdom of Sprint betting on an unproven technology, but JPMorgan analyst Tom Lee said the Google deal should ease any investor concerns about WiMax.
"It really strengthens the legitimacy" of WiMax, Lee said, adding it would also help create interest among consumer electronic companies to make WiMax compatible devices.
Sprint plans to connect its WiMax network with that of Clearwire Corp to allow customers to roam between both networks. They expect to cover an area reaching a potential 100 million people by the end of 2008.
The agreement with Google could potentially create a new business for Sprint and Clearwire, according to Lee, who said Google could use their WiMax networks to connect short-range wireless hotspots it is building in San Francisco.
Sprint plans to test the WiMax service in Chicago, Baltimore and Washington by the end of 2007, with a goal of attaining coverage for 100 million people by the end of 2008.