The Indy's going mobile

Soon you'll be able to read this paper on yourphone, thanks to WAP, a new Internet language being developed by Vodafone andIndependent News and Media
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Just when you were getting used toe-commerce and all those online deals, make way for m-commerce as mobile phones threaten to sideline PCs.

Just when you were getting used toe-commerce and all those online deals, make way for m-commerce as mobile phones threaten to sideline PCs.

At the moment about 2 per cent of mobile phonecommunications are used to transmit data - a figure which, according to MerrillLynch, is set to rise to 50 per cent in a little over three years. Networkproviders, technologists, phone companies and content producers are falling overthemselves to get a part of the WAP revolution.

Wireless Application Protocol isa new language which allows you to access the Internet on the screen of yourphone without needing a browser like Netscape or Explorer.

The first WAP mobilephones are just coming on to the market and initially will not be not be as goodas a PC because the screens are small and the download time long. But the secondand third generation of WAP phone/viewers will be much better in both respects.They will have much larger screens and will operate at speeds up to 2megabytes a second, compared with the average phone's 9.6 kilobytes a second atthe moment.

And they will be able to do almost everything apart from make thetea. You will be able to download films, TV programmes, hold video-conferencesand conduct all your financial and social affairs while on the move - anythingfrom online banking to viewing the rerun of a TV programme or the sporting eventwhich you may have missed.

Last week's surge in telecom stocks in London is asign that investors are acknowledging the growth potential. Since earlyOctober, the telecoms subsector on the Stock Market has risen by 42 per cent.

The first rung up this great information ladder will be a huge growth in the useof SMS (Short Messaging Services), which allows 160 characters to be displayed onyour phone. This is already very popular with young people, who have developed acompletely new language of short forms and short words to use the service. Herewe declare an interest because Independent News and Media, which owns theIndependent titles, is part owner of I-Touch, a South African software company,which has developed new technololgies making SMS faster and cheaper.

Independentrecently signed a contract to provide a news alert feed for Vodafone SMS in thiscountry. This is the next development in a relationship which has existedbetween the three companies in South Africa and is expected to spread to othercountries where Independent has media interests.

Wayne Pitout, joint managingdirector of InTouch, said it should be possible to personalise short messagealert services so that a subscriber would receive tailored information alerts.Much of the technology needed for multimedia phones is still being developed. "We are dabbling with the technology and it is just now working, but it is goingto to be 12 months before it's ready," he said. An InTouch team will soon moveinto Independent's Canary Wharf headquarters in London's Docklands and theservice is due to be launched early in the New Year.

All the mobile networkservices are busy in this fact-moving area, working closely with the devicemanufacturers and signing up content providers. The BBC and Reuters have donedeals as content providers with services such as news, results, betting,shopping, banking and business-to-business.

What will make all this possible in thenext couple of years is the emergence of the General Packet Radio System (GPRS),which will increase bandwidth by combining multiple voice channels together, andthe third generation mobile should receive data at up to 2Mb per second: quiteenough for video and graphical applications.

The number of mobile devices in themarket already exceeds PCs worldwide by some margin, and growth is higher. Insome countries mobile phones outnumber landlines, and some predict over 1 billionmobile devices in use by 2004. A large proportion of these will be WAP enabled,and therefore their users will be able to access the Web wherever they may be.

Siemens claims to be the first launch a WAP phone in Britain - the S25 - whichsells for around £80. The Internet access is stripped down because the phone hasa normal-size display.

Nokia is about to launch its WAP phone, the 7710. Apartfrom accessibility and portability, the new generation phones will have a bigprice advantage over PCs, forcing the hardware manufacturers to find new ways ofmaking their packages even cheaper to compete with the phones - competitionwhich will be bloody within three years.