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3's mobile walled garden crumbles

A deal with Yahoo will give 3's subscribers full Internet access for the first time, thanks to the Web giant's mobile-optimisation software

Mobile operator 3 has announced a deal with Internet giant Yahoo, which will finally liberate its users from 3’s "walled garden" Internet-browsing experience.

Until now, the operator gave browsing access only to "a list of sites that we deem to work well over mobile", according to a spokesperson. The Yahoo deal means that 3 users will soon be able to browse any site and theoretically see it work perfectly on a handset, thanks to Yahoo’s rendering technology.

"The transcoding that Yahoo can supply means all these sites will work over mobile," 3’s spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Thursday, adding: "Consumers don’t want to pay for stuff they can’t see".

The suitability of Web sites for handheld devices, which offer far less flexibility and screen space than PCs, is a hot issue. In May, the .mobi domain extension — which will be used for mobile-friendly sites — was launched.

No launch date has yet been announced, and it seems likely that 3’s service will go live across the global operations of its owner, the Chinese company Hutchison Whampoa.

Pricing for the service is another issue that has to be resolved. 3 has traditionally priced most of its 3G services, such as downloadable music tracks and videos, by the item rather than per megabyte.

Open Web access on 3’s phones also raises the possibility of competition for some of the operator’s own services, such as the video-clip-sharing channel See Me TV, which loosely falls into the same social-networking genre as MySpace and Bebo.

But 3’s spokesperson told ZDNet UK that "there is no reason why See Me TV and other community areas cannot work side by side".

As well as general Web browsing, 3’s subscribers will also get access to Yahoo’s handset-optimised Search, Messenger and Mail facilities.

The operator also signed a deal with Microsoft in March, making MSN Messenger and Hotmail accessible through its phones.