Microsoft enhances mobile searching

The Japanese unit of Microsoft, working with Japanese mobile content company Cybird, has launched the MSN Mobile Search service that the companies claim significantly boosts the number of Web sites and data available to Japan's mobile users, while offering mobile Internet channels for PC owners.

Mobile phone or PC users can access the service through a common URL (uniform resource locator), http://m.msn.co.jp, to search about 80,000 mobile Internet sites. That is about 80 percent of the total number of mobile Internet sites available in Japan, according to Koya Kikuchi, MSN's marketing manager.

"Actually, nobody really knows how many mobile Internet sites there are in Japan, but it's estimated that there are about 100,000. You can now get to most of them," he said.

At the end of June 2004, NTT DoCoMo Inc. estimated there were 81,795 Internet sites for its I-mode mobile Internet service, the largest in Japan, with 42 million subscribers. Overall, 71 million of Japan's 83.1 million mobile phone users have phones capable of accessing the mobile Internet, according to the Telecommunications Carriers Association.

The next-biggest mobile search service is offered by Yahoo Japan, which offers "about 30,000 to 40,000 sites," according to Yoshie Tsukamoto, MSN's general manager.

"MSN was not the first to develop this sort of technology, but today we are pressing forward with the integration of mobile to PC to Web site," said Tsukamoto. "MSN strategy is focused on communications services and search services; these are our two core pillars. This agreement brings our core search services to mobile," she said.

Microsoft has acquired a license to use GigaCode, a search service dedicated to mobile phone content, provided by Cybird subsidiary Gigaflops Japan. Cybird started GigaCode service in 2000. Cybird developed MSN Mobile Search based on the GigaCode for MSN and will maintain and operate the service, the companies said.

MSN says that 32 million people in Japan use MSN services per month, including Hotmail, Messenger and its portal site. The move comes on top of several pushes by Microsoft into the mobile space in Japan. Earlier in August the company launched its first ever Web log service, which allows visitors access to blog sites from mobile phones.

"From the Japanese user point of view, we believe that users would like to enjoy these services both on PCs and mobile phones," said Kikuchi.

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