TECH TALK: 3GSM 2007: Mobile Web

The most important talk at 3GSM was the one given by Tim Berners-Lee on the Mobile Web. Here are some excerpts:

The Web is designed, in turn, to be universal: to include anything and anyone. This universality includes an independence of hardware device and operating system, as I mentioned, and clearly this includes the mobile platform. It also has to allow links between data from any form of life, academic, commercial, private or government. It can’t censor: it must allow scribbled ideas and learned journals, and leave it to others to distinguish these. It has to be independent of language and of culture. It has to provide as good an access as it can for people with disabilities.

The Web worked because of a number of technical and social reasons. It worked because there was no central bottleneck for traffic, no central link database to be kept consistent, no central place to go and register a new page or a new Web site.

The Web is a huge platform for innovation because of those standards. Any new genre of communication, any new social networking idea, immediately can gain the value of unexpected re-use by people across the world.

There is a very important difference in attitude between a foundation technology and well let’s call it a ceiling technology. A foundation technology is designed to enable innovation, to be the base which will support other even more powerful things to come. A ceiling technology is not. It is designed to provide a value, and for its provider to cash in and cash out. Proprietary music download systems are ceiling technologies to the extent that the technologists design to be also being the only store in town, rather than creating an open market. Though putting a lid on further innovation, they are still providing a service, and making sure they profit from it.

As the Web platform and the mobile phone converge what do we want the result to be? A foundation or a ceiling technology? Clearly, a foundation. A mobile phone or whatever device we carry around which uses GSM technology and its successors is going to be everywhere, and everyone will have one. It has do be designed to be universal. So that everyone can use it. So that you can do anything with it.

The choice is the new platform being a privately owned walled garden, or a competitive open platform. Both models can work in the medium term. But the open model opens up new things which we can only try to imagine.

What are the standards? Basically, the same standards as the current Web uses. That is the most important point. It is one Web. The Web works on phones. There are effective browsers which can give you access to the same information which you could see from any laptop or desktop. Of course, looking ahead, small devices will get smarter and displays will get more and more pixels, so mobile devices are taking the same track which larger computers did a few years before.
It isn’t just about making the Web you know today work on mobile phones. We are talking about innovation. The innovations which will really count are the things which I can’t imagine now. They may include new applications built using the familiar AJAX technologies used cross-platform now, well known by developers, and increasingly available on mobile devices. These new applications may also operate across multiple devices. This is where we talk of the Ubiquitous Web. Have you noticed the price of LEDs is coming down, and more and more surfaces are covered with them? Not just at rock concerts and Times Square, but coming soon to all kinds of surfaces near you. Your phone could use these displays, and the abstract task you are doing can really rise above individual devices. Imagine that my phone or my wristwatch has details of a flight I am booking, and I walk into a room where it negotiates to project a map on the wall. And so on. Imagine yourself. Innovate on the mobile Web platform.

Tomorrow: An Operator Perspective


Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.