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Berners-Lee backs open mobile web

Father of the web wants web standards

The so-called father of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has appealed to an audience of wireless service providers and application developers to keep the mobile internet as open as the wired web has become.

In a speech at the Mobile Internet World conference, Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium, urged mobile network operators and other vendors to adhere to future mobile web standards instead of taking proprietary approaches. He also said that hardware, software and content should be as universally available to users on the mobile web as it is on the wired one.

"The most important thing about the web's arrival is that it runs on any hardware, any software, any language, and can be used by people with disabilities," Berners-Lee told his audience. "It has had to be universal. That's what is important to remember as we go into the mobile web. It's important to keep it universal."

Openness will provide a larger market for all vendors, Berners-Lee contended. Likening the mobile internet to a cake, he said, "Having the cake get bigger is where the game is."

Berners-Lee was characteristically diplomatic in his speech, avoiding any mention of specific vendors that he thinks are following proprietary paths. However, he criticised the 'walled garden' approach used by some mobile carriers to restrict user access to a single weather service or other types of content providers. In addition, he condemned Apple, without actually naming the company, for forcing its customers to use devices that require them to go to one music website to buy songs.

Addressing other types of content, Berners-Lee said he hopes that network operators won't restrict the movies offered on mobile devices to a set list of popular titles. "The system should not discriminate," he said, noting that there are many independent films available to carriers.

He also supported the concept of unlocking phones so that users in the US no longer would have to go to cellular carriers and buy phones tied their networks under multiyear contracts. Berners-Lee said that in Europe, where he lives and does most of his business travel, he has become accustomed to switching phone models and transferring his SIM card, or Subscriber Identity Module, to each new device at will. He added, though, that he has remained with the same carrier each time.

Berners-Lee said that he thinks mobile internet use will eventually be large. But he cautioned that if vendors go proprietary and avoid standards, the expected growth in adoption could be slowed by five to 10 years.

Open wireless networks and devices have been a concern of the Federal Communications Commission, which has required that a portion of the 700MHz spectrum being auctioned off to vendors in the US in January be left open.

Yankee Group Research, one of the sponsors of Mobile Internet World, said in a report released on Wednesday that the wireless industry thus far has failed to meet the pent-up consumer demand for mobile internet services. The annual worldwide market for such services could be $66bn but has only reached about $9.5bn, Yankee Group said, citing a new research model that it has developed.

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