Wireless technology promises Internet boost

Mobile Internet devices could be the key to 1 billion online by 2005

Over one billion people will be using the Internet by the year 2005, a significant proportion of these on mobile devices, according to a new report from market research company eTForecasts, which brings modest encouragement for a dot-com industry immersed in gloom.

The number of Internet users world-wide currently stands at just over 400 million, but this report indicates that there will be consistent growth to 1.17 billion users over the next four years.

The research suggests that the proportion of wireless Internet users, which currently makes up 10 percent of the world's online population, will grow to 62 percent over the next five years. It also finds that the majority of growth over the next five years will be seen in Asia, Latin America and parts of Europe.

Europe is expected to see more growth in mobile Internet use over the next five years than the US, with its mobile Internet population growing to 68.3 percent compared to 39 percent in the US.

Broadband wireless, or third generation (3G), technology is set to debut in Europe over the next two to three years. The first European Internet-enabled phones, using WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) at relatively low speeds, have seen mixed success in Europe, but the report points to the boom of more advanced mobile Internet technology in Japan and expects Europe to follow suit.

"The wireless Internet will take off rapidly once always-on service and useful content for the small displays of wireless devices are available," says Dr Egil Juliussen, author of the report. "The rapid take off will be due to millions of 'dormant' or web-enabled cell phones that are only used for voice services."

However, some analysts have suggested that, having spent so much on 3G licences, telecom firms may have a hard time making a profit from wireless broadband.

Nevertheless, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) recently agreed a roadmap for the development of 3G mobile network standards in Europe.

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