'Dot-mobi' domain for mobile devices hits the Web

A new domain is available for mobile phone Web sites, but some experts say it's not really needed.

The first domain suffixes especially created for mobile devices became available on Monday, but some critics say a new domain naming plan is unnecessary.

On Monday, Mobile Top Level Domain, the company put in charge by the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) last summer of allocating the domain names, opened initial domain name registration. Mobile Top Level Domain, or mTLD, is funded by a consortium of companies including Ericsson, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung Electronics, T-Mobile and Vodafone.

While cell phones and the Internet are pervasive in today's society, few people are actually using their cell phones to surf the Net, say experts. Part of the reason is that accessing content on the Web from a mobile handset is cumbersome, with some sites requiring a long Wireless Application Protocol, or WAP, address and others needing only a typical dot-com address. For end users, knowing which sites use their traditional Web addresses and which don't is hit or miss.

The new dot-mobi domain is supposed to solve this problem. The idea is that users will know that if they use an address with the dot-mobi suffix, it will be formatted especially for mobile devices.

"Some sites are optimized for mobile users, but others are not," said Vance Hedderel, a spokesman for dot-mobi and mTLD. "We are trying to make it easy for users to know which sites they can access from a mobile device. We have also developed rules and recommended best practices for developers to keep the mobile surfing experience consistent."

Thousands of domain names have already been registered within the first day, Hedderel said. Yahoo, Google, 20th Century Fox, Nokia, Sony, Vodafone and Microsoft, among others, have registered sites.

But not everyone in the mobile community thinks a new domain is necessary to spur adoption of the mobile Internet. Anil Malhotra, co-founder and vice president of marketing for Bango, a company that provides billing solutions for mobile Web sites, wonders if introducing a new mobile domain will actually slow development of the mobile Internet for a short period of time.

"Content owners would be better off just marketing one URL instead of having to introduce a second mobile URL," he said. "It will take time and money to market and educate users about these new site addresses. I think that it could confuse consumers for a short time."

Malhotra said there's no reason why developers of mobile Web sites can't use technology that identifies whether a user is accessing a site from a mobile device or a PC, so that content is rendered in the appropriate format. Many large companies, such as Google and Yahoo, are already doing this.

Despite his reservations, Malhotra believes most big brands will spend the roughly $200 to register their dot-mobi names anyway, because they will want to protect their names from cybersquatters. (By contrast, dot-com domains sell for about $10 to $20.) But he said it's unlikely companies will market a separate dot-mobi domain to consumers. Instead, mobile Internet users will be encouraged to use a single dot-com address that can be accessed from a PC as well as a cell phone.

He said what's really needed to push the mobile Internet into the mainstream is for cell phone carriers to allow users to openly surf the Net instead of restricting them to a subset of sites accessed from the carriers' programmed menus. He also believes handset makers need to develop products that make it easier to click and view content.

"Right now it's still too difficult to surf the mobile Internet," he said. "If you remove these barriers, it will inspire more companies to make their content more easily accessible on mobile phones."

Dot-mobi registration is currently open to companies belonging to a wireless trade association. Starting June 12, registration will be expanded to any trademarked name. All other names will be able to register for a dot-mobi address beginning Aug. 28.

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