[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 15 September 2006, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
Mobiles put the web in your hands
BBC Click's Dan Simmons
By Dan Simmons
Reporter, BBC Click Online

Mobile phones
Nigeria dominates mobile phone access to the BBC's website

For the mobile industry, waiting for people to use the net via their phone has been like waiting for a bus that never comes.

Even though a huge number of mobile phones in use can access the internet, and after the launch of faster third-generation (3G) data services, only 10% of Europeans actually use their handsets to go online.

The situation is the same in almost every other nation apart from Japan and Korea where faster mobile networks have been around for some time.

The slow take up has been blamed on the restrictions phone firms place on net access, confusion over cost, awkward page layouts, and slow browsing speeds.

To make matters worse, 3G handsets have been clunky rather than funky.

"It's like picking a girlfriend or boyfriend. The first and most important decision for people is 'what does it look like?'" said Robert Rawlinson of Mobileshop.com.

He added that phones were now "fashion items" and 3G handsets were lacking the features, such as snap-on cases, common in many 2.5G mobiles.

Custom content

The networks are starting to tackle these problems and smaller handsets are starting to crop up. They are also starting to tailor content more specifically for mobile phones and get familiar web-names onto handsets.

Coronation Street on BT Movio

Operators are also starting to dismantle their walled gardens and are giving customers greater freedom to roam the net via their handset. Before now many have limited customers to a few select sites.

"Operators who adopt a walled-garden approach are actually missing the point," said Stuart Jackson of Orange World. "It's not about the content that you can give to the customer, it's about the content the customer wants to access,"

"There's a myriad of content out there and we should be encouraging people to go onto the mobile web, explore it, and find that content that they want to see."

Mobile viewing

A broader industry initiative should make the whole process of going online a far more pleasant experience. From next month anyone will be able to register a .mobi net address. This domain is meant solely for sites that will be navigable by phones and anyone signing up must ensure their site meets a strict set of accessibility standards

MTLD, the organisation behind .mobi, expects 200,000 mobile sites to be registered in the next year.

GSM Association

More subtle trends in the way that people use technology may also boost the use of the net on phones. For instance, it is now possible to buy a phone that automatically sets up and sends pictures to a photo blog.

Hit video-sharing site YouTube has a dedicated mobile phone portal that allows users in the US to upload clips while they are on the move.

Speed demons

Operators are also tackling connection speed. In the home many net users enjoy speeds in excess of 1Mbps. By comparison the 300Kbps speed of 3G is glacially slow.

One technology that could boost mobile surfing speeds is the formidably named High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA).

Operators are upgrading across the world. T-Mobile launched the UK's first network and handsets last month.

HSDPA uses a technology called extended codes, and the point of that is that it gives you a lot more data, but it also means it's very vulnerable to interference
Technology journalist Guy Kewney

Paul Sludden from T-Mobile said: "With HSDPA the testing that we've undertaken on the live network we've found we can achieve up to four times the speed of 3G. That's quite a significant improvement, and an enhancement for the customer."

During a test conducted by Click it took 30 minutes to find a stable signal. Once this hurdle was overcome the test showed that the BBC homepage loaded about four times faster than on a standard 3G phone.

Unfortunately phones do not, yet, show when they are locked on to a strong HSDPA signal which could prove frustrating for mobile users.

"HSDPA uses a technology called extended codes, and the point of that is that it gives you a lot more data, but it also means it's very vulnerable to interference," said technology journalist Guy Kewney.

"There we were, with all the interference that London provides, and we simply couldn't get an HSDPA signal.

"It's not a problem with HSDPA providers, it's the technology, which is vulnerable to interference."

The Click test was not strictly scientific but T-Mobile did admit there were problems in getting a clear HSDPA signal. This can be acute when the phone is equidistant from several masts, as it was during the Click test, or on the edge of a cell.

Cost confusion

How users pay for their net access is also starting to get some long overdue attention

Accessing the internet is such a fundamental part of peoples' day, and is increasingly so.
Robert Rawlinson, Mobileshop.com

"Most customers still have the feeling that they don't know how much it's going to cost them," said Thomas Husson of Jupiter Research.

"They fear the bill at the end of the month because they don't know how it's priced and how much they will pay for it," he said.

Stuart Jackson from Orange acknowledged that there was fear among customers. "We need to get better at approaching payment for internet services on the mobile in a better way," he said.

Many operators are starting to levy single monthly fees for unlimited web access - like many people do at home via their PC.

"Accessing the internet is such a fundamental part of peoples' day, and is increasingly so, that I think there's going to be more consumer awareness of 'hang on, I don't want to access the internet and look for the restaurant/nightclub/bar in my office or at home, I actually want to do it on the bus going home'," said Robert Rawlinson.

"And I think that whole behaviour with consumers, which is becoming ever more internet-centric, is going to make people realise that it's a bit of a pain not being able to access the internet while I'm moving around."

Major TV broadcasters go mobile
07 Sep 06 |  Entertainment
Net phone services falling short
13 Jul 06 |  Technology
Mobiles get net home of their own
11 Jul 05 |  Technology
Google targets mobile future
12 Jun 06 |  Technology
Hanging on the internet telephone
06 Mar 06 |  Technology

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific