Internet domain for mobile phone users soon

Relief may be on the way to mobile phone users frustrated with viewing poorly structured Web pages on their handsets and companies annoyed with the high-content development costs.

In a move to drive uptake of mobile Internet services, mTLD Top Level Domain Ltd. will begin next month to issue Internet domain names geared toward mobile devices, coupled with a set of design standards.

The .mobi domain name, which has been approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), is reserved for Web sites specifically designed to work with mobile handsets.

The aim of the new venture, established by the likes of Microsoft Corp., Nokia Corp. and Vodafone Group PLC, is to make mobile Internet services easy to use and affordable to develop, Neil Edwards, chief executive officer of mTLD in Dublin, said in an interview Wednesday.

The venture comes as mobile phone usage soars past PCs, with a current ratio of around four mobile phone owners to one PC user.

Investors in mTLD, including Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and T-Mobile International AG & Co. KG, have already been issued .mobi domain names.

Companies holding trademarks can apply for .mobi domain names during a limited industry sunrise period from May 22 to May 29. This phase will be open to more than 10,000 companies and associations in the mobile phone industry. A general business sunrise registration will follow from June 12 to Aug. 21.

After that comes a land rush registration, from Aug. 28 to Sept. 10, for anyone seeking a .mobi domain name. Mobile domain names available during this period will be sold at a premium, roughly two to three times the cost of a .com domain name, which is around US$15.

From Sept. 14, consumers and businesses can apply for .mobi suffixes through a general registration process.

The .mobi standards, designed to support mobile Web surfing and messaging, are based on work by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and .mobi investors in collaboration with W3C’s Mobile Web Initiative. Essentially, the standards eliminate frames and require developers to create content in XHTML (Extensible Hypertext Markup Language).

Developers can find information about .mobi standards and other requirements in the Switch On style guide at this Web site .

“With .mobi, we aim to create a trust mark, just like HD-ready and Bluetooth,” Edwards said. “When users see the .mobi symbol, they’ll know that the content is designed to work on their mobile device.”

To ensure compliance, mTLD will electronically monitor .mobi Web sites, according to Edwards. Registered companies will need to meet “some minimum requirements if they want to keep their Web site up,” he said.

Lower development costs for mobile content is high on Edwards’ list. “The cost of putting content on a mobile Web site today is prohibitive to the average guy on the street,” he said. Groups offering content development services are charging from $500 to as much as $3,000 per screen of data, which can range from 200 to 300 words, he said, speaking from experience.

With the help of open standards and development tools, Edward believes the .mobi initiative can significantly drive down development costs.

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