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.Mobi's Contentious Ride

The .mobi domain name extension will hurt the Internet, according to a number of industry folks opposed to its potential approval. The Device Independence Working Group (DIWG) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is just one group making noise amidst .mobi negotiations.

Last week, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) entered talks for .mobi, an Internet domain that caters to mobile devices.

DIWG has opposed the .mobi bid since the proposal was first made earlier this year, on the grounds the Web was meant to be device agnostic.

According to a rebuttal by Rotan Hanrahan, chief innovations architect at MobileAware, one of DIWG's main .mobi contentions is that it's being created so there's a separate area for mobile users to operate in that won't conflict with the PC. But the proposal doesn't provide a concrete definition of a mobile device.

Mobile notebooks have much the same processing power as the desktop, while a mobile phone is itself constrained by the most limited screen size and processor, the rebuttal, which was adopted by many of the members of the DIWG to counter the arguments made by the .mobi architects, states. How you differentiate between the two within .mobi is the question the group poses.

The answer is in the Composite Capability/Preference Profiles (CC/PP) work under way at the W3C. The XML-based technology allows devices to "announce" their device capabilities and user preferences when visiting a Web site, allowing the Web server to reply with a Web page compatible with the device.

"We at MobileAware believe that a URL should be used to uniquely identify a resource accessible on the Web, and that the manner in which the resource is created/selected, delivered, presented or otherwise adapted should be a matter for negotiation between the client and the server," Hanrahan said.

Nokia leads the group proposing the .mobi extension, and it includes others such as Microsoft and Vodaphone , as well as mobile players Ericsson, Hewlett-Packard , Samsung, Sun Microsystems , Telecom Italia Group and T-Mobile International.

If approved, proposal officials promise a virtual realm specific to the needs of mobile device users who are limited to the amount of information they can fit (and process) on their screens. It will also be used as the platform to offer domain-based telephone identifiers or, more simply put, dialing a phone number like "firstname.lastname@nokia.mobi."

A number of people representing international organizations also voiced concerns over the .mobi proposal during ICANN's public comment period earlier this year. Among them was Koki Higashida, president of the Japan Registry Service Co. He said that more than 40 percent of the Internet users in the country are mobile users and what .mobi brings is division to the Internet.

"Japan is one of the countries where use of Internet via mobile devices, especially mobile phones, is common," he said. "Based on the situation and experience of the usage, we envisage that there is no need to introduce .mobi, and that it does not add value to the users, since it hinders the use of other TLDs in mobile businesses."

Earlier this year, Microsoft officials made their case for .mobi. In an e-mail statement, Mike Wehrs, Microsoft director of technology and standards, said the company is "committed to delivering wireless data services to consumers and enterprises with our partners and to developing the robust opportunity they represent to the telecommunications, mobile and Internet industries."

Bill Plummer, Nokia vice president of external affairs, said a domain extension for mobile device is necessary and not intended to bifurcate the Internet into mobile and non-mobile arenas.

Rather, .mobi will be a clearly visible, consumable product for mobile users who want the assurance that when they type in a domain name using their device, it's guaranteed to conform to best practices for mobile content viewing.

"We're looking to take the potential of this marriage between mobility and the Internet to the next stage," Plummer said. "We want to be able to offer to end users this very visible and very intuitive promise of ease of use and speed of delivery that is appropriate for a mobile device: offer them that reliability, offer them that trust, offer the end user the knowledge that if they are going to a .mobi address, that the content will be consumable by their mobile device."

Plummer did say the group of companies acknowledge there's more work to be done on the specifics, but wouldn't divulge which technologies -- CC/PP or otherwise -- they are working on as a mobile content platform. He also said he expects .mobi domain names will go up for sale sometime in the second half of 2005.