HEAD: Surf the Web on your phone

With the way the TSE is playing mind games with jumpy investors, it’s nice that you now have the ability to keep an eye on conditions 24 hours a day.

Bell Mobility has recently announced the addition of several companies to its mobile browser service. These corporate sites are accessible using Internet-ready phones, and included among the Web sites now available is Charles Schwab Canada.

Clients of the brokerage firm can now get real-time price quotes, access trading functionality on the browser and read news headlines. The general public can also access the site but their quotes have a 20-minute delay.

Today’s mobile phones have small screens that show several lines of text-based information, thus allowing users to interact with Web sites that incorporate a wireless protocol. The interface between these devices and the Internet is the Wireless Application Protocol, known as WAP. WAP supports all operating systems but several, such as PalmOS and Windows CE, were specifically engineered for mobile devices. WAP also has a special language (Wireless Markup Language, WML) since mobile devices lack keyboards and have very small screens. HTML is also supported by WAP. Companies that want to have content available to mobile users have to create an interface using WAP and WML.

As with most companies moving to include mobile access to their list of attributes, service is the key.

“What we are really doing is just providing multiple access channels for the same set of services,” said Steve Kruspe, CIO at Schwab Canada in Toronto. “It is all coming from the same sources and going to the same brokerage accounts as the full screen (desktop access).”

Bell Mobility’s Internet services have been out since last May but each month more and more companies are joining on. Bell started with five applications available with the service and are now up to about 30. According to Kelly Dixon, director of wireless Internet development for Bell Mobility, the number of potential services is essentially limitless. She said there are more than 4,000 wireless applications available on Japanese mobile browsers.

Companies whose applications are included with Bell’s service include Yahoo Canada, HMV.com and GetThere.com, a provider of Internet-based travel services.

Dixon said each company is responsible for getting their technology onto the browser, since Bell is not a developer. Bell will, however, help with the implementation. On average, she said, it takes three to six months to fully develop a site using WAP.

Exactly where the mobile Internet market is going is hard to predict, according to analysts.

“It is exciting, it is innovative, it is new, and its implications are not entirely clear,” said John Riddell of the Angus Tel-Management Group in Ajax, Ont. Riddell explained that analysts usually look to the U.S. for market information but in this case the Canadian mobile browser market is ahead of anything found in the US.

“Bell Mobility has developed a great deal of momentum on this,” he said.

Jordan Worth, an analyst with IDC Canada, agrees the market and technology are in the early stages. He added its growth will be influenced by what applications are available and how consumer friendly the whole process becomes.

“The wireless companies are selling these Web-enabled phones now, irrespective of whether or not they have service, just to get them into people’s hands for when they can turn it on,” he said. “The wireless connectivity business for data is predicated on the growth of wireless voice.”

Riddell sees another big factor in the growth of wireless Internet. “I think that we may find that wireless Internet, from a consumer point of view, will grow out of its usage in a business framework,” he said. Riddell added that businesses will see an increase in the need for employees to access their own data, such as schedules, e-mail or order status, and that ultimately there could be a big potential savings for companies.

Charlotte Burke, vice-president of services marketing and e-commerce for Bell Mobility, sees great potential in the business market. “It is not just about being in the business, it is about helping you do better business on the Internet,” she said at last month’s wireless conference in Toronto.

Dixon said by 2003 as much as a quarter of all mobile use could be for Internet access. Today about 98 per cent of all mobile use is voice.

Bell Mobility’s RealTime (www.bellmobility.ca/mobilebrowser) rates start at $25 per month for 200 minutes, with each additional minute costing 25 cents.

Bell Mobility in Mississauga, Ont., can be reached at 1-800-667-0123.