Surfing the Web on a cellphone can be as difficult as surfing the ocean on a tiny board. Now, a company founded by Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., Vodafone Group PLC, Nokia Corp., and several other companies, aims to make it easier to browse the Internet on wireless devices such as cellphones or BlackBerries.
Currently, few Web pages are designed to be accessed via mobile devices. Many sites can't be displayed on tiny cellphone screens, and most would take a much longer time to download than on a PC.
Mobile Top Level Domain aims to change that in part by setting up a new domain name specifically for wireless Internet Web sites called dot-mobi. Just as dot-com is the domain name for many Web pages on the wired Internet, dot-mobi will become the suffix for Web pages that are formatted for cellphones and other wireless devices, the company says. Mobile Top Level Domain Chief Executive Officer Neil Edwards says the union of the Web and cellphones has so far been "a bad experience" that consumers and the mobile industry have failed to embrace. "Dot-mobi makes the Internet work on phones," says Mr. Edwards.
Executives at Mobile Top Level Domain, headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, believe that consumers would be more likely to tap into the Internet from their cellphones if doing so were easier and faster than it is today. Monday, the company opened registration for companies that want a dot-mobi domain name. In a matter of hours, thousands of websites were signed up, including Yahoo.mobi and Hotjobs.mobi. For now, registration for dot-mobi Web sites is open only to members of wireless industry trade associations, which include wireless carriers, handset manufacturers and media companies, including Yahoo Inc., that want to make money from providing content to the wireless Web.
Companies with trademark-validated names will be able to register in June for 70 days to avoid "cyber-squatters" registering well-known names. Registration will be open to generic names in September. Microsoft is expected to register about 200 names, including msn.mobi and xboxlive.mobi. Procter & Gamble Co., the consumer product company, is expected to register 500 dot-mobi sites for its trademark products, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Though none of the major U.S. wireless carriers invested in Mobile Top Level Domain, they all registered their dot-mobi domain names on Monday, such as Cingular.mobi, Sprint.mobi and Verizon.mobi. Major media companies such as CBS Corp., Time Warner Inc. and News Corp.'s Fox News Channel have also jumped in with new domain names: cbs.mobi, fox.mobi and timewarner.mobi. Even famous movies and TV shows like Batman, Catwoman, Family Guy and The Matrix now have registered dot-mobi sites.
A dot-mobi domain name costs $140 a year for trademark names and $45 a year for generic names, compared with about $10 a year for .com or .net domain names. The company says that the higher prices are meant to discourage cyber squatters from taking advantage of a new domain name.
So far, Internet usage on cellphones isn't growing as fast as some of its promoters had hoped. About 75% of handsets sold in the U.S. today have built-in browsers, but only about 17% of total phone users browse the wireless Internet, according to technology research firm Forrester Research Inc. Consumers' reluctance to use the wireless Internet is partly due to the fact that it is mostly text based so the experience is not as exciting as browsing the Web on PCs, says Charles Golvin, a Forrester analyst.
The lackluster demand is also due to the slower speed of wireless network transmissions, compared with broadband connections, and lower handset processing power, compared with computers, according to industry experts.
To make wireless surfing smoother, Mobile Top Level Domain has required Web developers to follow a set of rules. One rule requires dot-mobi sites not to "cause pop-ups or other windows to appear." Another requires developers to "divide (dot-mobi web) pages into usable but limited size portions."
Mobile Top Level Domain provides software, auditing and certification services to Web developers. Once a domain name application is submitted, the company tests its usability and may shut down a site if it doesn't meet the guidelines.
While it is technically possible to type in individual addresses on cellphones today, most consumers are discouraged from doing so because often the same address that works on a computer doesn't work on a cellphone.
Some sites, such as google.com and weather.com, use a software that can detect if a Web connection comes from a mobile device so it can be redirected to a site that is specifically formatted for phones even if the user typed in a dot-com address. In other cases, users will get an error message when trying to access a regular .com site. For example, when users type in Nasdaq.com on a BlackBerry, they will get an error message because Nasdaq doesn't have a Web site for mobile devices.
If all Web sites created for cellphones adopted the dot-mobi suffix, phone users would know that they would be guaranteed consistent and pleasant experiences when using dot-mobi URLs, says Mr. Edwards of Mobile Top Level Domain.
Many big companies are backing this initiative because they will all benefit if the dot-mobi suffix takes roots among consumers. Wireless carriers like Vodafone could generate more revenues from data usage. For their part, Google and MSN are looking at advertising on cellphones, which is expected to be more effective than online advertising because the cellphone is perceived as a more personal device.
Handset maker Nokia, an investor in the company, hopes that any success of the dot-mobi suffix will translate into increased sales of Internet-savvy cellphones, especially in developing countries where more people have cellphones than PCs.
"People have to have new reasons to buy new phones," says Ritva Siren, an executive of Nokia in charge of domain names. "That's what we hope to happen here."
Write to Li Yuan at firstname.lastname@example.org