.mobi set to spark domain name mania

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The Independent Online

The demand for internet domain names specifically used for mobile phones is expected to reach fever pitch next week when registration is opened up to the public. Nearly 13,000 trademarked websites have already been registered by companies over the past four months.

Next Tuesday, the public can apply to register web sites using the ".mobi" suffix on a first-come, first-served basis. The company charged with registering names expects up to 90,000 such sites to be registered within the initial 10-day "land-rush" period as people look to snap up domain names that could prove lucrative in the future. It expects several hundred thousand such sites to be registered once the price of registering the domain names falls.

Mobile phone operators in the UK have offered internet surfing via handsets for some years, but the customer experience has been frustrating for many users. Accessing familiar websites on a phone has proved cumbersome as those pages are designed to be viewed and navigated using a computer, not a phone. It has also proved expensive as surfers pay to download an entire website that often includes rich graphics and functions that do not work on most handsets.

To address some of these issues, the mobile phone industry has created the ".mobi" domain name to define websites specifically tailored for mobile phone screens. The body behind the domain name, mTLD Top Level Domain, is backed by the likes of Nokia, Ericsson, Vodafone, Google, Microsoft and 3.

Neil Edwards, the head of mTLD, said almost 13,000 trademarked ".mobi" names have been registered since June. Over that period, mTLD has only allowed trademark owners to register .mobi sites as a way of avoiding the problem of "cyber-squatting" whereby individuals register well-known brand names to then sell on to the brand owners at inflated prices. To further deter such activity, Mr Edwards said it has charged $200 (£105) per .mobi site. By comparison, a .com website can be registered for under £2 in the UK.

Some of the sites to have gone live include weather.mobi and cityguide.mobi as well as company websites such as bmw.mobi and rolls-royce.mobi.

Mr Edwards said he is encouraged that some companies have already begun advertising ".mobi" websites, arguing that it should trigger other companies to begin formulating a mobile internet strategy.

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