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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
Government goes mobile
Mobile phone, BBC
Talking to government via text messaging
Imagine getting your exam results, an update on your passport application or news that your state benefit was in your bank via mobile phone.

It could become a reality as the UK Government considers mobile communications as part of its drive to make all public services available electronically by 2005.

As well as offering services online and via interactive TV, officials are looking at mobile phones as an alternative delivery method.

The government is in talks with mobile phone network operators and handset makers to use SMS to exchange information and support secure transactions, using digital certificates coded into phones, reports the technology news magazine Computing.

High penetration

The big advantage of delivering services via phone would be that more people have mobiles than have internet access.

Using SMS could be a means of getting young people more involved in political processes

Demos spokesperson
"The high levels of mobile phone penetration mean it is vital to think about [mobiles] as a delivery mechanism for government services," said a spokesperson for the office of the E-envoy.

Thinktank Demos is pleased to see the government getting smarter about how to use new technology but points out that it will only be successful if the content is compelling.

"Using SMS could be a means of getting young people more involved in political processes," said a spokesperson for Demos. "But putting things on that people aren't interested in isn't going to change much."

The plans are still at a very early stage, but officials are hoping to use text messaging to deliver some electronic public services within 12 months.

Huge task

Exam boards have reacted cautiously to the idea that results could be sent via SMS.

An Edexcel spokeswoman said it sent results to schools and had no plans to change the system.

"We could not possibly collect the mobile phone numbers for over four million students but it is feasible that schools and colleges could do so if that is what students want."

Exam board AQA said it would be a "huge task" to send results to individual students.

"Our relationship is with the [school or college] rather than the candidate and my gut feeling is that we wouldn't have the information available to route the results in that way," said a spokesperson.

See also:

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Challenges ahead for e-government
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