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Terra hits WAP scene with iobox buyout

Successful Finnish wireless portal snapped up for £140m
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Spain's Terra Mobile made the first big acquisition of its short life Tuesday with the purchase of wireless portal iobox for 230m euros (about £140m). The move fuels the wireless Internet ambitions of telco Telefonica and Internet service provider Terra Networks.

Iobox is one of Europe's most successful wireless portals, having acquired over one million registered users from the UK, Finland, Sweden and Germany since its launch in Helsinki last year.

Terra Mobile was founded earlier this month by Telefonica Mobiles and Terra Networks, which recently acquired US-based Internet portal Lycos. The venture's aim is to become the world's leading mobile Internet portal, though a public growing more sceptical of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) may ask "Why bother?"

For example, Germany's T-Mobil last month revealed that only 1.3 percent, or 175,000, of its subscribers use WAP services, even though 250,000 have WAP-enabled phones.

Still, the wireless Internet is expected to take off in the next few years, with analyst firm Allied Business Intelligence forecasting 600 million WAP handsets will be shipped during the next five years. Companies such as Vodafone AirTouch (quote: VOD), Vivendi, Sonera and British Telecommunications (quote: BT) are eager to get a piece of that market and have begun launching mobile portals of their own.

Most recently Verizon, which combines the US wireless services of Vodafone, Bell Atlantic and GTE, launched its own "Mobile Web" service in the US with wireless access to sites such as E*Trade, Expedia and CitySearch.

Terra Mobile's iobox purchase was seen as a way of quickly developing a wireless portal without having to go through the lengthy trial-and-error process of developing its own service from scratch.

"The iobox acquisition will provide Terra Mobile with first mover advantages in the wireless portal game," said Terra Mobile chief executive Eliseo Sanchez, in a statement.

"Iobox's pioneering, scalable technological platform, its highly skilled pool of talent, and its growing franchise, will be complemented by our global customer base, distribution networks, billing platforms, financial strength, and ability to source content globally."

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