IT intelligence: mobile internet technology

Only train tunnels can hold back mobile internet technology, says Robin Fisk.

Internet access continues to grow exponentially. The number of internet users in China grew by more than 23 per cent in 2006 to 137 million, 17 million of whom use mobiles to access the net. Google sees the mobile playing a vital role in improving internet access, especially in Asia.

That is partly because the number of mobiles in the world now outnumbers the number of PCs by two to one. China has approximately 440 million handsets, India roughly 100 million and an extra five million each month.

The ability to access the net with mobiles has had a democratising effect in places where PC ownership is less common than in the west. We may soon see a tipping point when the internet ceases to be dominated by users whose native tongue is English.

There is a constant revolution in the technical capability of portable devices. In the mid-90s you could use your mobile as a (very slow) modem for your laptop. The first WAP phones emerged in 1997 and displayed rudimentary information. Then came GPRS-capable mobiles, using an efficient packet-based connection. Still popular, GPRS means your phone can browse mobile-friendly websites and handle email via your organisation's mail servers.

After that came the faster 3G. Phones with WiFi can connect to the net at even higher speeds.

Now there is High-Speed Downlink Packet Access, which is faster than most domestic broadband services. The main UK mobile networks are rolling out their HSDPA services this year. Will HSDPA offer the speed, coverage and reliability we crave? Time will tell, and other standards may yet take over. But the day is coming when, on your train journey home, you will be able to get your email, the news and your management reports, watch TV and book a holiday - as long as there aren't too many tunnels.

• Robin Fisk is managing director of software company Fisk Brett.

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