AT&T bringing the mobile Web to the masses

Company is embedding a full HTML Opera Mini mobile browser it calls att.net into four new feature phones.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
4 min read

Full Web browsing is not just for smartphones like the iPhone. AT&T is now bringing full HTML Web browsing to "dumb" feature phones, as well.

The company announced four new handsets in the past few days that all come embedded with a full HTML Opera Mini mobile browser it calls att.net. The company says the new browser will make the mobile Internet browsing experience faster, more location-aware, and easier to use.

Pantech Reveal has a vertical slider QWERTY keyboard
The Pantech Reveal has a vertical slider QWERTY keyboard. Pantech

The browser will offer users three different ways to access the Web. There is a home screen that allows subscribers to browse Web sites and assign favorite bookmarks. It also offers local search short cuts. The second window offers location-aware local news, weather, and one-click access to nearby restaurants, movie theaters, ATMs, and other points of interest. It also offers access to maps, driving directions, and traffic information. The third window delivers up-to-the-minute news, sports, and entertainment headlines.

The handsets that AT&T has introduced using the Opera Mini browser are not considered "smartphones." They are high-end feature phones with either a touch screen or full QWERTY keypad. The devices include the Pantech Reveal, Pantech Impact, Samsung Mythic, and Samsung Flight.

The Pantech Reveal looks like a regular, fat, candy bar phone, but it actually slides vertically to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard underneath. This 3G phone also offers GPS with AT&T Navigator and a music player. It will be available in both red and blue starting October 18.

The Pantech Impact has a touch screen on the outside. And it opens up into a full QWERTY keyboard. It's also 3G and offers a music player.

The Samsung Mythic is a 3G 3.3.-inch touch-screen phone that also has support for AT&T Mobile TV. It will be available in November for $200 with service. The Samsung Flight is a slider handset with a full QWERTY keyboard. It comes in silver or red and also offers a music player and streaming video capability. It will also be available in November for $99 with service.

AT&T executives say that the new att.net mobile browser gives its wireless users the chance to get the same kind of Web experience on their phones as they get on their PCs. Going forward, all of AT&T's Internet-enabled phones will have the att.net full HTML browser built in, according to Mark Siegel, an AT&T spokesman.

The idea sounds like a good one. Voice revenue is declining for mobile carriers. And data usage is already on the rise. For the second quarter of 2009, AT&T reported a 37.2 percent increase in wireless data revenue to $3.4 billion, more than double the total for the same period two years earlier. This usage included messaging, Internet access, access to applications and related services. Verizon Wireless said that its data revenue jumped to over 52 percent to $3.9 billion during the second quarter of 2009.

Mobile Internet services are the future of the wireless industry. But until recently, the mobile Web browsing experience has not been pleasant using WAP (wireless application protocol) browsers that only provide stripped down versions of mobile Web sites.

Smartphones, such as the iPhone, have changed the mobile Web surfing experience. The iPhone comes with a full HTML browser built in and users access actual Web pages that look and feel like the Web pages they use on their PCs.

Consumers like the more robust Web experience of a smartphone, which is driving smartphone sales through the roof. The fact that companies like AT&T are subsidizing these phones by $300 or $400 also helps sell them. Subscribers can get an 8GB iPhone 3G for $99 and the newer 8GB iPhone 3GS for $199.

But smartphones require an expensive monthly data service. The iPhone requires users sign up for a $30-a-month data plan in addition to a voice plan. Meanwhile, AT&T only charges $15 a month for data for non-smartphones, like the new Samsung and Pantech phones.

Even though Verizon Wireless recently changed its data service pricing for non-smartphones, AT&T's spokesman Mark Siegel said that the company has not announced a change to its data pricing for non-smartphones. But that isn't to say that it won't change this in the future.

The attractive data service pricing could encourage an entire new population of wireless Web users, which is great news for AT&T's bottom line. But can AT&T's network handle the additional load? If the new browser works as advertised and AT&T's feature-phone subscribers also get hooked on the wireless Web, the company could be opening a can of worms for itself. In the past several months, thousands of iPhone users in the U.S. have been complaining of dropped calls and mediocre wireless data speeds.

Experts say the problems are likely caused by too much mobile data traffic from iPhone users. AT&T admits it has seen a sharp increase in data usage from the iPhone, but it's refused to admit there is a problem.

Still, AT&T has said that it is upgrading its network. The company says it will spend $17 billion to $18 billion on improving its wireless and wireline broadband networks in 2009.

Some of these improvements include deploying 850MHz technology across AT&T's 3G markets to improve in-building coverage, adding nearly 2,000 new cell sites to improve overall coverage, and increasing capacity in thousands of cell sites with more backhaul infrastructure.