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Sprint: Now Keeping Friends in The 'loopt'

Sprint  is now in the loopt.

Looking to offer customers a GPS-based  phone service its rivals don't yet have, Sprint Nextel agreed to offer a social mapping utility that lets users find their friends and possibly even end those annoying missed calls.

Those who sign up for the service, offered by startup loopt, may use their Sprint-powered cell phones to pinpoint their friends' locations around the world.

The idea is to use GPS capabilities to trigger interaction between friends and reduce missed connections, which despite newfangled services and high-tech smartphones remains a frustrating bugaboo in modern telecommunications.

As a location search application in motor vehicles, GPS has been used by phone operators with great success. But phone carriers such as Sprint, Verizon Wireless  and AT&T  have been looking for services like loopt to help boost the value of their handsets. The loopt-Sprint partnership epitomizes this push.

"The most common mobile question in the world is 'where are you?' and we're excited that loopt will be able to answer that question for Sprint customers who choose to participate," said Sam Altman, loopt CEO and co-founder, in a statement. "... loopt on Sprint puts an end to missed connections and facilitates real-world interactions."

How does it work?

Loopt automatically updates the location of everyone in a user's private network of friends and displays that information directly on a map on the phone. Loopt also allows users to send messages to friends when they are nearby, so they can meet up.

Loopt on Sprint also features geo-tagging capabilities, which allow mobile users to get a map of locations and capture their experiences to share with friends in their private network.

As emerging technologies in the high-tech arena mobile search services may invoke the concerns of privacy watchdogs. But loopt pledges to be permission-based; users share location information only with their loopt friends via private networks.

Need to dump a friend? Loopt users can also turn location-sharing on or off at any time, not unlike the way users are permitted to block users on instant messaging applications.

Loopt will be available in the coming weeks on more than 25 Sprint and Nextel phones for $2.99 per month, plus data charges.

Armed with $5 million in funding from venture capital firms Sequoia Capital and New Enterprise Associates, loopt launched on Sprint subsidiary Boost Mobile last November and signed up more than 100,000 customers in its first three months.