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Web surfing on mobile phones gets off to slow start

Wap technology has received a lukewarm response Keystone

New technology that allows users to access the Internet through mobile phones is struggling to find a foothold in Switzerland.

This content was published on July 18, 2000 - 23:00

Wap (Wireless Application Protocol) is meant to revolutionise the way people use the Internet but providers are admitting that take-up has so far been slow.

The three main providers (Swisscom, Orange and Diax) estimate that in total about 50,000 users can now access the Internet through their mobile phones. This is a tiny figure compared to the 3.5 million mobile phone owners in Switzerland.

Analysts say Wap phones are still rare and the system is too slow.

Its user-friendliness is also being questioned. Only a few lines of text can be read on the phone screen at one time and the vast majority of websites are not yet available through Wap.

Sites have to be specially adapted to be Wap-compatible and most companies have been unwilling to make the investment. "Swissinfo.org" is one of the few news sites which can be accessed via mobile phones with Wap technology.

At present there are about a dozen Wap sites providing news, train timetables, financial information and an electronic phone book. Users can also order flowers, books, CDs and videos. Swisscom Mobile says the number of sites should expand to around 50 by the end of the year.

To access the Internet, Wap users must call a special portal run by each operator. Connection charges are around 20 centimes per minute.

The three Swiss operators are still confident that Wap technology will become popular. Swisscom alone expects 100,000 users by the end of the year and says the problem is one of supply rather than demand.

It says many more people would like to be Wap-compatible but that there is a shortage of phones at the moment.

Wap's slow take-off is not confined to Switzerland. In Germany, only 250,000 people are Wap-connected, even though 13 million have mobile phones. And just 175,000 people regularly use the service.

Experts say the technology should become more popular with the new GPRS system, which will improve network performance. But that won't be available in Europe for another two years.

swissinfo with agencies

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