August 29, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

The mobile Internet: Are we there yet?

After years of hype, wireless users in the United States are waiting for all the technology pieces to come together to make surfing the Internet from their handsets as easy as it is on their PCs at home.

So how close are we to simple and robust Web surfing from a cell phone?

The answer depends on whom you ask. Some experts say the mobile Internet is already here. Millions of people throughout the world are accessing wireless application protocol, or WAP, Web sites--stripped-down sites specially designed for mobile handsets. But other experts argue that WAP sites are too limited. Some people say an entirely new domain name, called "dot-mobi," should be used for Web sites that are optimized for mobile surfing. Still others propose using intelligent browsers to turn traditional Web sites into something that can be viewed on a small handset.

"I think what people really want is to be able to access the same sites they access on their PCs, but from their phones," said Matt Hatton, a senior analyst with the Yankee Group based in the United Kingdom. "Once we can get the experience to look and feel more like the traditional Internet, more people will be willing to spend the money to pay for the services."

While there is still a lot of disagreement over how subscribers should be accessing mobile Web sites, there's almost complete agreement that when the mobile Internet finally hits mainstream adoption, it's going to be big.

The largest U.S. mobile carriers--Cingular Wireless, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless--are already seeing huge growth in data usage. Together they generated more than $6.3 billion in wireless data revenues for the first half of 2006, said Chetan Sharma, an independent mobile wireless consultant. Overall, wireless data service revenues, which also include several regional carriers, exceeded $7 billion in the first half of the year. Mobile carriers in the U.S. could generate more than $15 billion in data revenue for all of 2006. This is almost a 75 percent jump from 2005, when data services for the entire year accounted for $8.6 billion.

To date, most of the mobile data growth in the United States has been from consumer messaging services, like short-message service (SMS), and from enterprise data services. But unlike mobile Internet usage by wireless customers in Japan or South Korea, surfing the mobile Web in the U.S. hasn't yet caught on. In a survey conducted by Yankee Group in April, about 18 percent of wireless users in the U.S. said they had at least tried using the mobile Internet, but only 6 percent considered themselves regular mobile Internet users.

Experts say the biggest reason why users aren't using their cell phones to access the Web more often is that compared with the traditional Internet, today's mobile Internet is still fairly rudimentary when it comes to Web site quality and ease of navigation. Part of this experience is determined by the technology used by Web site developers and phone manufacturers providing access to sites. But it's also impacted by the fact that most users don't yet have access to faster 3G networks and affordable 3G handsets, which greatly improve quality.

"We're just waiting for all the pieces to come together," said Linda Barrabee, program manager for Wireless and Mobile at Yankee Group in the U.S. "I think once carriers improve the experience and solve the network and handset penetration issues, the services will become a lot more appealing to consumers."

Specialty services
New mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs, such as Mobile ESPN and Helio, are trying to improve the mobile Internet and multimedia experience for consumers. Mobile ESPN is going after sports fanatics with a service that offers video clips, alerts and news that can be downloaded onto phones. And Helio is targeting young hipsters by offering high-end phones for accessing interactive games, high-quality videos and Web content. The company struck a special deal with the MySpace social-networking Web site, so users can read and write MySpace mail from their handsets, send bulletins, read and write blogs, view photos and profiles, and post photos to the MySpace space directly from their phones.

But because Mobile ESPN and Helio lease capacity from Sprint Nextel instead of owning their own networks, their services are dependent on the underlying speed of the network, which means that even though the handsets are capable of doing much more, downloading content or surfing Web pages could still take a long time. Early indications suggest Mobile ESPN and Helio are struggling to sign up customers.

CONTINUED: WAP evolution…
Page 1 | 2

See more CNET content tagged:
wireless data service, handset, WAP, data service, ESPN

19 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Cell Phone Screeen Too Small
>Despite years of hype, mobile Internet services are not widely used in the U.S....<

More years of hype, and marketplace failure, to follow.:-)
Posted by john55440 (1020 comments )
Reply Link Flag
absolutely
It is an inevitability but, "yes", the screens are way too small. Whether flip/scroll 'flex screens' or retinal/surface "projections" will be the solution, it will have to wait, which in turn is waiting for the hi-speed superstructures.

This will all probably come together around the time when the h/w differences that make "ultralites"/'smart' handhelds and PC's one in the same - then they wil all be PCD's, (Personal Computing Devices.)
Posted by DiamondBridgeCenterfuge (9 comments )
Link Flag
No need to purpose content
The reality of purposing content for WAP is that most web sites are unwilling to go through the time and expense to purpose the content for WAP unless there is a quick return on investment. The mobile use of the internet will not necessarily increase as 3G capabilities become closer to reality. Users want relevant content and simple devices. Some of the new 3G phones are getting too complicated to use and support. Carriers are finding out that as soon as they have idiot proofed a phone God gives them a better idiot. The are solutions available today that permit any 2G-3G device to access any content, with proper form-factor rendering, on any web site with out having to go through a lot of expense, time and effort. One of the reasons that there is more use in Asian countries is because the carriers there are willing to use these technologies from 3rd parties. U.S. carriers are too busy trying to invent or control the technology to even give if a try. The consumer in North America is the looser. I wish I could get Korean cell coverage here.
Posted by grumpyz (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Greed
The problem with the mobile internet is greed on the carriers and content providers part. Some carriers only allow you to download content from their's or their partner's site for a price (hint T-Mobile sidekick), and won't allow you to d/l your own apps. Why in the world would I want to keep paying a subscription fee for an application/game?

In the article, they mention ESPN Mobile. While I was at the Sprint store, I saw the phone that they use, and was interested, until I saw the brochure. It contained so many options for the phone, along with $$, next to those options. Hey ESPN, how about a few different plans w/flat rates, insted of hitting the customer up for $$, for extra bells and whistles?

While at the Sprint store, I was intending to pick up an LG, that has the mp3 player. But that changed when I took a test surf of the Samsung A900. WOW!!!!! Now that's what I have been waiting for. 3G is now here. The A900 is a blade style phone (think Razor, but better), with lots of speed and features. The A900 is fast on the Internet, rich with color, sound, and space for apps (11Mb).

It holds about 47Mb worth of Mp3's, which I found kind of small at first. That is until I discovered that you can subscribe to Sirrus feeds (around $7), to receive 20 channels of digital music.

Each day was a new experience with the A900, learning about a new feature. When I ran over opera mini, that was icing on the cake. Now I can access regular sites, in a reformatted manner.

Yesterday, I downloaded and set up a java email client, so I can manage mail a lot better, than through the browser interface. WOW!!!!

You know, before I was upset that Sprint hadn't made a deal with Motorola, to use the Razor on it's network. Now I see why the Koreans are so happy with their handsets/services back home. Now when I see people with the Razor on Cingular's network (hint slow. not CDMA), I say to myself, they are busy trying to look cool talking on their phone, but all they are doing is chatter.

Cheers!!!!!

p.s. Did I mention that it also has a built in 1.3 Megapixel Camera w/flash.

p.s.s. If you think I am pulling your leg, visit your local Sprint store for a demo. This is not a shill.
Posted by ratthomas (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Alternate ways such as Frucall use voice
This low rate of adoption is why users are finding some alternante methods such as Frucall (voice based comparison shopping - getting online prices by making a voice call) more desirable. Voice is a natural and comfortable medium on the phone, and users do not need to pay extra and have a fancier phone to use it. Technologies such as Frucall enable Internet data to be brought to consumer masses in voice format.
Posted by nmanesh (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wireless progression in North America is a Joke
An absolute JOKE! in the rest of the world where companies can agree on standards things actually work. Asia has a far greater adoption rate when it comes to technology especially wireless devices like cell phones and new concept such as "surfing the web on your phone", "video conferencing on your phone" arent new there. North American companies all they care about is how they can screw the next company over by say using a totally different standard, how about locking phones to a carrier or charging absorbent prices for things like wireless bandwidth which hinders growth and adoption. Lets face is wireless Internet isn't a necessity it's a luxury and when that luxury becomes too expensive people aren't going to buy into it. In Canada we dont even have wireless reception on the subway systems thats how much it sucks! Were still using tokens on our transit systems when everyone else uses magnetic swipe cards.
Posted by brian.lee (548 comments )
Reply Link Flag
W3C Mobile Web Initiative
CNET readers should also be aware of the W3C's Mobile Web
Initiative (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://w3.org/mobile" target="_newWindow">http://w3.org/mobile</a>) which is supported by a
number of the companies referenced in your article. Among
other things, the Mobile Web Initiative has developed guidelines
(best practices) for content developers to make their content
mobile friendly and is in the process of developing a MobileOK
trustmark for mobile content.

Dan Appelquist
Technology Strategist, Vodafone Group
Chair, Mobile Web Best Practices working group, W3C
Posted by dappelquist (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The real problem is the web developers
I have replied to this article on my blog:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://eugenia.blogsome.com/2006/08/29/the-mobile-internet-are-we-there-" target="_newWindow">http://eugenia.blogsome.com/2006/08/29/the-mobile-internet-are-we-there-</a>
yet/

I am a professional mobile web developer and as such I have quite some experience of what is wrong and what works and what doesn't.
Posted by Eugenia_Loli (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE: The real problem is the web developers
Please use this URL instead to read the blog post:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://eugenia.blogsome.com/2006/08/29" target="_newWindow">http://eugenia.blogsome.com/2006/08/29</a>
The previous one got cut-out by the system.
Posted by Eugenia_Loli (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Money
When I can use my cellphone to access the internet for as little money as I use my laptop, then it might be a feasible alternative (assuming those little teeny buttons don't break my fingers), but for the present, the cost of data transfer on my cellphone is ridiculous.
Posted by taffypaffy (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Compelling Services are coming
Phones are getting the capability, networks are getting faster, email was just the beginning, and now hybrid services combining WAP, SMS, and email are becoming widely adopted. If you look at services like www.soonr.com you can see that the power of the PC will be available to phones, even phones that do not have 3G. People carry their phones with them all the time and they don't want to leave behind all the stuff that they care about on their PCs. A new category is forming that will combine the people's worlds of information.

P.S. I am with SoonR. You'll be amazed at what your WAP phone can do. The best is yet to come.
Posted by songzhuang (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Compelling Services are coming / here
Phones are getting the capability, networks are getting faster, email was just the beginning, and now hybrid services combining WAP, SMS, and email are becoming widely adopted. If you look at services like www.soonr.com you can see that the power of the PC will be available to phones, even phones that do not have 3G. People carry their phones with them all the time and they don't want to leave behind all the stuff that they care about on their PCs. A new category is forming that will combine the people's worlds of information.

P.S. I am with SoonR. You'll be amazed at what your WAP phone can do. The best is yet to come.
Posted by songzhuang (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'm already mobile
Get a Nokia 770 tablet, EVDO plan on bluetooth phone, and you are mobile. The 770 definitely has its problems, but it does work. No one is going to use a 2" screen, Your eyes will go bad.
Posted by rubik5x5x5 (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Bring the Current Web to BlackBerry/PDA's
To solve this problem the company I work for had a mini-project to develop a server-side script that would strip complex web pages down to text-based pages for viewing on BlackBerry's and PDAs. Not perfect, but works great for our small group.

Saves a ton on data transfer, as most plans here start at only 15MB/month including email which runs out fast with full-on web browsing from BlackBerry devices. The idea is that waiting for current web sites to 'mobilize' will take too long, easier to find a dynamic solution to the problem, at least in the interim. Site can be seen at bbsearch.info.
Posted by cadillacj (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Mobile Internet
Technology is available for mobile internet for everyday users. Currently most people access the internet via there mobile phone. The concern with mobile phone usage as discussed in this article is that it is very elementary and limited to functionality. However, you can use your cell phone along with a usb connector to connect to the internet in your vehicle (www.customcarputers.com). The connection speed is slower because of satellite connection, but it does provide the user with a broader internet experience when they are outside there work or home area.
Posted by Facelessone1 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
600 million broadband connections - $1 per month?
SWANsat to Turn Earth into Wi-Fi Hotspot

IOSTAR, SANDIA LABS, ORBITAL. The pioneers of GPS &#38; Teledesic  together with directors such as 4 Star General Tony McPeak &#38; former secretary of US Air Force (Roche) and former Branch Chief of guided missiles &#38; CEO of Western Digital  are coming together for intriguing development called SWANsat.


Imagine a series of at least three geosynchronous orbital satellites providing wireless Internet access to the entire world. Thats exactly what a project called SWANsat or Super-Wide Area Network Satellite plans to do by the year 2011. They intend to be a global broadband Internet service provider that can facilitate up to 600 million connections per satellite. All you need is a handheld mobile device to connect to the system.

Read more: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.gizmocafe.com/blogs/gizmo_waydes_blog/archive/2006/08/21/96546.aspx" target="_newWindow">http://www.gizmocafe.com/blogs/gizmo_waydes_blog/archive/2006/08/21/96546.aspx</a>

The Teledesic Chief Architect (now President of IOSTAR) recently made this presentation:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://csmarts.colorado.edu/presentationpages/34_future_of_space/page_01.htm" target="_newWindow">http://csmarts.colorado.edu/presentationpages/34_future_of_space/page_01.htm</a>
(intro-nav page) <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://csmarts.colorado.edu/presentationpages/34_future_of_space/Slide45.JPG" target="_newWindow">http://csmarts.colorado.edu/presentationpages/34_future_of_space/Slide45.JPG</a>


www.iostarcorp.com
www.swansat.com
Posted by swansat_kaching (20 comments )
Reply Link Flag
More Wap Services Needed
There are several reasons why mobile Internet couldn't reach to masses and fulfill their needs.

One of the most important reason is the network charges over wireless data transfer. It's too expensive compared to broadband Internet access. All operators must reduce their GPRS - EDGE - UMTS charges.. If it can't be done due to costs then I guess there will be alternate ways like Super Wide Area Network in the future. (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.swansat.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.swansat.com/</a>)

The second reason is the small screen on most mobile handsets. It's not ergonomic to browse a web site from a small screen phone, it's not healthy for eyes. You have to use a trans-coder and browser like Opera but this time real web experience is gone, most web sites are not designed for mobile use so it's very hard to navigate through hundreds of links and pages of txt to find what you are looking for..

It seems Wap and specifically designed mobile web sites is only solution for next 5-10 years maybe more so in order to fulfil customer experience more Wap sites and more quality services are needed. Recently there was a growth in new Wap services with .mobi domains and Wap 2.0 (xHTML) being more popular and available on more handsets, but it's still not enough. Most of those Wap sites are not interactive, you can only read forums, news, blogs but you can't participate in them, this is not a Wap user looking for!

Some other reasons are slow connection speed, slow Wap browsers etc..

-------------------------
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://twilightwap.com" target="_newWindow">http://twilightwap.com</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://prodigits.co.uk" target="_newWindow">http://prodigits.co.uk</a>
Posted by twilightwap (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Easy way to build WebSites for Mobile Devices
I think peole are using the mobile web more as more and more cell phone companies are selling internet enabled phones. Speeds are becoming faster. I have a T Mobile Dash which is not a phone that many people have heard of in the US but is very popular in Europe. I use it a lot to surf the web for things like checking Fedex tracking, restaurants menu, location of stores, prices on other sites.I am thrilled that
Network Solutions launched BuildMyMobi which is a tool that makes it easy for anyone to build a website that is accessible on cell phones. www.BuildMyMobi.com
Posted by shooshman (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Tribes from Alatto
Tribes <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://gb.tribes.cc/globalen" target="_newWindow">http://gb.tribes.cc/globalen</a> from Alatto give each user a tailored portal for the mobile phone. I simply navigate by clicking the next button, or through the directory under the home button. Highly recommended
Posted by gaasen (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.