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Firm hopes to streamline hand-held Web surfing
(CNN) -- Hand-held devices can be awkward and slow when it comes to surfing the Internet, but a U.K.-based company says it has come up with a way to streamline the process.
If bango.net has its way, the increasing popularity of hand-held devices will lead to a new identity tag -- the "Bango Number" -- sitting alongside e-mail and Web addresses.
A Bango number is an alternative Web address that is number-based rather than letter-based.
Its creators argue that a Web address based on numbers is easier to input on mobile Internet devices such as WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) telephones and hand-held personal organizers like the Psion and Palm.
Bango.net chief executive officer Ray Anderson said the numbering system was designed to accompany business Web sites rather than replace them altogether.
"The conventional Internet naming system of URLs (Web addresses) can be clumsy and time-consuming for users on devices that have access to the Net via a telephone keypad," Anderson said.
"With a registered Bango number, businesses can steer their customers to a pinpointed page within a company Web site via a three- to six-digit number, as opposed to a potentially lengthy and difficult to remember URL."
Bango.net also is targeting individuals who have not had the ability or inclination to produce and maintain a WAP site but have information they want made available to a broad audience, such as invitations and meeting arrangements.
The company said a word-of-mouth campaign emanating from the its Cambridge base in England has led to about 10,000 Bango numbers being registered via the company's Internet site. About 500 were being used in business advertising.
But according to some industry experts, the numbers don't add up.
An over-reliance on technology with an uncertain future and the possibility the Bango brand will be diluted by competitors offering alternative numbering systems were cited as the tallest hurdles.
Matthew Bingham, editor of London-based Internet magazine The Net, said the system could be made redundant by changing technology.
"A numbering system will work well with WAP devices, but how long will WAP, which is a text-only service, be around?"
"Next generation, or 3G, telephone technology is just around the corner and its greater bandwidth will allow users to browse the Web more easily in different ways," he said.
Bingham also sees the unregulated nature of the Internet as a potential problem.
"Telecommunications companies have regulatory bodies to protect the integrity of the numbering systems, but what is to stop another international company developing its own system and duplicating the numbers on their own system?" he asked.
Shani Raja, editor of pan-European industry newsletter Mobile Communications, agreed there was a need for such a system but acknowledged the potential for competitors to confuse the public by duplicating the address numbers.
"There is an urgent need for mobile operators to make WAP services more user-friendly because they are seen by many consumers as clumsy and unreliable, and this is holding back the development of the much-hyped mobile Internet," Raja said.
"Services like bango.net are part of an urgent drive to simplify access to WAP services. But it's too early to tell if this sort of model is the best way forward."
High-priced real estate
At least one unnamed organization has identified considerable potential in the concept, paying $10,000 for a three-digit Bango number, according to Anderson.
The company was holding back the sale of one and two-digit numbers until the market has advanced and scarcity could drive up the price.
Prices for numbers vary according to their "distinctiveness," but the standard charge is $29 per year. Thousands of free numbers are being offered on a short-term basis.
The company aims to have 3 million Bango numbers in operation by 2001.
Initial funding has raised $1.5 million from the leaders of blue chip companies such as cable television company NTL, Internet company 365 Corp. and Deutsche Bank. Despite the reservations of some industry observers Anderson remained upbeat, pointing to the fact there were now 152 million wireless subscribers in Europe, with industry forecasts predicting 370 million by 2005.
"The U.S. is a few years behind Europe in WAP take-up but they will catch up. And the use of numbers instead of the Roman alphabet will make Web addresses universal," he said.
Bango.net has six patents pending on the proprietary technology driving the system, including a program that prices the sequence of numbers according to what the firm considers their memorable qualities.
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